Over 200 radio and almost 80 TV stations named in the audit notice, including Michigan stations.
By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
In the swirl of news about the deregulatory efforts of the new FCC, one could almost forget that there are still many regulations in place that require significant amounts of paperwork retention by broadcasters. That point was hammered home last week, when the FCC released its first EEO audit letter of 2017 for radio and TV broadcasters. The FCC’s public notice announcing the commencement of the audit includes the audit letter that was sent to all of the targeted stations. The list of over 200 radio stations subject to the audit is here. The list of almost 80 TV stations is here. Responses are due March 28, 2017. As employment information for all stations within a named station’s “employment unit” must be provided in response to the audit, the reach of this notice goes far beyond the 300 stations targeted in the audit notices. While the FCC is considering a proposal to allow online recruiting sources to suffice to meet a broadcaster’s wide dissemination requirements (as we wrote here), that proposal is still at an early stage and, as this audit notice evidences, the underlying rules remain in place.
The FCC reminds stations that were targeted by the audit to put a copy of the audit letter in their public file. The response, too, must go into the file. For all the TV stations hit by the audit letter, and those radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, that will mean that the audit letter and response go into that FCC-hosted online public file.
The Commission has pledged to randomly audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – including the requirements for wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate a station’s community about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited. The FCC also has the opportunity to audit larger broadcasters’ EEO performance when they file their FCC EEO Mid-Term Report. We also wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started the year before last for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and last year for TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees in a few months, and are filed on the 4th anniversary of the filing deadline for the station’s license renewal – which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.
The audit letter requires all stations with five or more full-time (30 or more hours per week) employees to provide a significant amount of information about their EEO programs and recruiting efforts (including copies of their two latest Annual EEO public file reports and documentation backing up the efforts listed on those reports). Even stations with fewer than five full-time employees need to report the job titles of their employees and the number of hours they are assigned to work each week, and provide any information about law suits, EEOC complaints or similar employment actions brought as a result of equal employment or discrimination matters. Information about any time brokerage agreement must also be disclosed.
If any station in your cluster is on the list, all stations in that “station employment unit” (a group of commonly owned stations serving the same area with at least one common employee) must respond. But, if a cluster has been audited in 2014 or 2015, or if its renewal was granted in the last 18 months, the FCC may allow you to avoid responding to this audit – but you have to request that “pass” from the FCC. If a station that is being audited is involved in an LMA with another broadcaster, the audit may require that the broker provide employment information as well as the licensee.
All stations should review the audit letter as it provides a good outline of the documents that stations should be retaining to demonstrate their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules. For more information about compliance with the EEO rules, see our post about an EEO webinar in which I participated, held by the FCC in early 2012 to explain its EEO rules. Also, you can find a link to a presentation that I did just over a year ago on the EEO rules for broadcasters, here. You may also want to review the last set of fines for broadcast EEO violations, about which we wrote here.
Many broadcasters complain that the EEO rules are among the more burdensome paperwork requirements, and no doubt much time and money will be spent responding to this audit notice. But whether a broader review of the EEO requirements, beyond simply looking at the acknowledgement that online recruiting is how recruiting is now done, will be in the cards at the FCC remains to be seen.
David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access).
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