By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
On July 24, The FCC adopted an order moving broadcast EEO enforcement from the FCC’s Media Bureau to its Enforcement Bureau. The change will be effective later, after certain procedural approvals are obtained and after notice is published in the Federal Register. As EEO enforcement is primarily aimed at broadcasters and cable companies, and has been part of the Media Bureau responsibilities since the Bureau existed, why was this change made and what does it mean?
The FCC makes clear in its order that the reason for the move is that the Enforcement Bureau is for better enforcement of the EEO rules. Specifically, the FCC said this about the transfer of authority from the Media Bureau to the Enforcement Bureau:
“The Enforcement Bureau’s staff has extensive experience conducting investigations and pursuing enforcement in a wide range of areas. They therefore are well positioned to provide assistance and guidance with EEO review, audit, and enforcement work. Further, the Enforcement Bureau has expertise in, and maintains tools and databases to aid with, the tracking of statutory deadlines, including those relevant to EEO audits and investigations, that the Media Bureau does not.”
Thus, broadcasters need to be ready for more rigorous enforcement of the EEO rules.
As is evident from recent FCC decisions fining broadcasters for EEO rule violations, while EEO compliance is somewhat simpler since last year’s decision allowing broadcasters to rely solely on online recruitment sources for their wide dissemination of information about job openings, the rules are still being enforced. While EEO enforcement can arise through complaints or FCC investigations, it is much more common for it to come up in three ways: (1) through EEO audits, (2) in connection with license renewal (which will begin its three-year cycle again next year), and, (3) to a lesser extent, through EEO model programs filed with applications for new stations and in connection with assignments and transfers. As two of those three sources of EEO enforcement are tied to Media Bureau applications, there will have to be cross-Bureau cooperation now in assessing the applications where these issues arise.
We will see how this all plays out in the future. But, for now, watch for the notices on the effective date of this change, and be sure to make sure that your EEO program complies with the FCC’s requirements as there is now a new cop on the beat.
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).
There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership.