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Nonprofits ask FCC to reinstate Broadcast EEO reporting

Having posted this in the past, I must say, that I, for one, am not holding my breath on the FCC acting on this anytime soon. So many things we expected from a majority Democratic Commission and now I hear rumblings of Chairman Genachowski not seeking a second appointment. We had so much hopes. Nice to see my old boss, Angela Campbell, from Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation as lead counsel with some of my former clients on this request reported in Communications Daily today:

Three dozen nonprofits asked the FCC to resume collecting the numbers of minorities and women employed at each broadcaster, after a lapse of most of the past decade. They said late Thursday it’s far past time for the commission to require radio and TV stations to fill out Form 395-B yearly and for the FCC to disclose publicly each broadcaster’s information. Those requesting the commission action include the Communications Workers of America, Common Cause, Free Press, the New America Foundation and Public Knowledge. Broadcasters have asked that the data be kept private and submitted to a third party, not the FCC, a position that some still support, said nonprofit and industry officials.

At issue is commission enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) broadcast rules. Some enforcement aspects of the rules have come under fire from minority advocates for not being aggressive enough (CD  July 1 p2). Nonprofits including groups representing minorities contend that lack of data on minority and female employment at radio and TV stations has hamstrung them and the regulator in coming up with statistics on minority employment in the industry. They also contend that the lack of data makes it harder to work with stations that don’t employ any minorities, to encourage them to find and hire people of color. Those seeking an FCC requirement that Form 395-B be filled out say the commission won’t use it to crack down on industry, but rather to gather information on trends and report on them.

“I think it sort of fell through the cracks” at the FCC, said Director Angela Campbell of Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, lawyer for the lead group that made the request. “And of the people there now, there’s hardly anybody who remembers what happened in 2001.” That’s when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of broadcast associations representing stations in the Washington area that such data collection was unlawful. If the form is reinstated, the FCC isn’t “going to use it the way they used to use it, which was to identify stations they think might be discriminating,” Campbell said.

The part of an 2002 FCC EEO notice remains in limbo because the agency hasn’t acted to reinstate the Form 395-B requirement, Campbell and others said. “They want to be more data driven, and they have an EEO policy, but without  information” on minority employment “we have no idea whether the policy is  working, because we have no idea what the composition of the workforce is in broadcasting,” she said. Commissioners and a Media Bureau spokeswoman declined to comment.

“The reason they hesitate [to act], is they can see, on their own, that the numbers have gone down” in minority employment in broadcasting, said President Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, lead signer seeking reinstatement of the document. “We don’t want rules or regulations, but we need to have that data so we know what the local stations are doing.” Employing more minorities, including Latinos, at broadcast networks and at individual stations would make for more diverse programming, Nogales said. The NHMC wants to form partnerships with industry “to help stations that are not doing so well,” said Vice President Jessica Gonzalez. “That is one thing we’d like to do with that data.” NHMC’s letter
is at http://xrl.us/bh5etn.

The 2002 FCC notice is “virtually the last word on the subject” of the document, said Executive Director David Honig of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, who also signed the letter. “The FCC has been fully briefed and it’s ready to act and it has just sat and sat. We certainly expected that under the” administration of Chairman Julius Genachowski it would have been done, because of its focus on civil rights and data collection, he added. The request was filed in docket 10-103 as part of the commission’s review of all the bureau’s data collection.

“NAB strongly supports diversity initiatives in broadcasting, and we believe that stations should strive to reflect the changing demographics of society,” a spokesman said. “We do not oppose employment data collection, so long as it is not financially burdensome and is anonymously collected to demonstrate overall trends in station hiring.” To use the “data in proceedings before the FCC, every station that will have publicly filed Form 395-B will feel pressure to hire based on race, ethnicity, and gender,” the Named State Broadcasters Associations told the FCC in 2008. Also that year, the Office of Management and Budget approved use of the form after the commission “decides whether the data collected from each form will be held confidential or not” and consults with OMB about confidentiality. The form is at http://xrl.us/bh5es8.

Since the 2001 D.C. Circuit case, “the commission has been fighting over redesigning its forms and the method of collecting the information” on EEO rules, said Senior Vice President Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, which signed last week’s letter. Rather than using minority employment data as the sole basis on deciding whether to challenge a broadcaster’s license renewal request, it was used along with information on hiring practices, said Schwartzman and Honig. “We used it as a guide to say whether broadcasters were engaging in adequate programs to ensure diversity in their workforce,” Schwartzman said. If not, he said, “that would prompt a further review to try to see if they were taking adequate steps to have a diverse work force.” — Jonathan Make

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One comment

  • Thanks to Ms. Ghatt for keeping the topic of minority representation at the forefront.

    I always expect both sides of the political spectrum to give but mere lip service to the issue of minority representation in media. That this Democratic-controlled FCC would be no different is not surprising.

    They have given themselves two convenient excuses; the national broadband plan and net neutrality. Unfortunately for the FCC, both initiatives currently shed no fruit. Maybe the FCC should have erred on the side of doing what is currently mandated by rule, overseeing the status of minorities in media, versus wasting time on net neutrality.

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