Category Archives: Legal File

Sexual Harassment Complaint Webinar Archived for MAB Members

As a member exclusive, the MAB is offering its members the archived recording of the March 20, 2018 webinar “You and #MeToo – Crisis Management for Media Companies Addressing Sexual Harassment Complaints” from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

The nearly 90-minute webinar focuses on the #MeToo movement, which is now consuming media companies of all sizes, with nearly daily reports of sexual harassment charges. The media industry is hardly unique in that regard, but the impact can be greater in media, where the target of a complaint may not only be a public face of the company, but one of its principal products as well. What might be a simple employment action for other businesses can be akin to shutting down a product line for a media company.

Regardless, it is guaranteed to be a high-profile, carefully scrutinized process that is part crisis management, part employment law, and part public relations. For all involved, it can be handled well…or poorly, exposing the company to liability from complainants, accused employees and shareholders.

Members can use their login and access the webinar here.  If you’ve lost your login information, contact the MAB at 800.968.7622 (1-800-YOUR-MAB).

Solve for “X”: NFL is to Super Bowl® as USOC is to Olympics® as NCAA is to X® (There Is More Than One Correct Answer!)

Mitchell Stabbe
Mitchell Stabbe

By: Mitchell Stabbe, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP via the Broadcast Law Blog

It was almost exactly one year ago that we reported that the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.” The NCAA prevailed because the defendant entered into an agreement not to use the marks, but failed to file an answer to the complaint. A default judgment was entered. On February 23, 2018, the NCAA filed a motion requesting an an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55.

The amount of attorneys’ fees incurred in a case that was resolved with relatively little resistance illustrates the level of importance that the NCAA places on taking action against activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs. Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks. Accordingly, following is an updated version of last year’s blog post on this subject.

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament underway, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark.

The NCAA Aggressively Polices the Use of its Trademarks

The NCAA states that $821.4M of its annual revenues derives from the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Moreover, its returns from the tournament have historically grown each year. Most of this income comes from broadcast licensing fees. It also has a substantial amount of revenue from licensing March Madness® and its other marks for use by advertisers. As part of those licenses, the NCAA agrees to stop non-authorized parties from using any of the marks. Indeed, if the NCAA did not actively police the use of its marks by unauthorized companies, advertisers might not feel the need to get a license or, at least, to pay as much as they do for the license. Thus, the NCAA has a strong incentive to put on a full court press to prevent non-licensees from associating their goods and services with the NCAA tournament through unauthorized use of its trademarks.

Activities that May Result in a Whistle

The NCAA acknowledges that media entities can sell advertising that accompanies the entity’s coverage of the NCAA championships. Even so, as discussed in greater deal in our earlier discussions of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of Super Bowl – and Olympics – related promotions, unless authorized by the NCAA, any of the following activities may result in a cease and desist demand:

    • Accepting advertising that refers to the NCAA, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, March Madness, The Big Dance, Final Four, Elite Eight or any other NCAA trademark or logo (The NCAA has posted a list of its trademarks here.)
      Example: An ad from a retailer with the headline, “Buy A New Big Screen TV in Time to Watch March Madness.”
    • Local programming that uses any NCAA trademark as part of its name.
      Example: A locally produced program previewing the tournament called “The Big Dance: Pick a Winning Bracket.”
    • Selling the right to sponsor the overall coverage by a broadcaster, website or print publication of the tournament.
      Example: During the sports segment of the local news, introducing the section of the report on tournament developments as “March Madness, brought to you by [name of advertiser].”
    • Sweepstakes or giveaways that include any NCAA trademark in its name.
      Example: “The Final Four Giveaway.”
    • Sweepstakes or giveaways that offer tickets to a tournament game as a prize.
      Example: the sweepstakes name may not be a problem, but including game tickets as a prize will raise an objection by the NCAA.
    • Events or parties that use any NCAA trademark to attract attendees.
      Example: a radio station sponsors a happy hour where fans can watch a tournament game and prominently places any of the NCAA marks on signage.
    • Advertising that wishes or congratulates a team, or its coach or players, on success in the tournament.
      Example: “[Advertiser name] wishes [Name of Coach] and the 2018 [Name of Team] success in the NCAA tournament!”

There is one more common pitfall that is unique to the NCAA Basketball: tournament brackets used in office pools where participants predict the winners of each game in advance of the tournament. The NCAA’s view is that the unauthorized placement of advertising within an NCAA bracket or corporate sponsorship of a tournament bracket is misleading and constitutes an infringement of its intellectual property rights. Accordingly, it says that any advertising should be outside of the bracket space and should clearly indicate that the advertiser or its goods or services are not sponsored by, approved by or otherwise associated with the NCAA or its championship tournament.

Note that none of these restrictions prevents media companies from using any of the marks in providing customary news coverage of or commentary on the tournament. Just be sure that they are just used to identify the tournament and its stages, and don’t in any way imply that there is an association between the station itself or any sponsor who does not have the rights to claim such association and the NCAA. The NCAA’s Advertising and Promotional Guidelines are available for review online.

A Surprising History of “March Madness”

The NCAA was not the first to use “March Madness” as a trademark in connection with basketball tournaments. In fact, beginning in the 1940’s, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) used it in connection with the Illinois state high school basketball championship playoffs.

The NCAA also may not have been the first to license the use of “March Madness.” Beginning in the early 1990’s, the IHSA licensed it for use by other state high school basketball tournaments and by corporations.

Moreover, the NCAA did not originate the use of “March Madness” to promote its collegiate basketball tournament. Rather, CBS broadcaster is credited with first using “March Madness” in 1982 to describe the tournament. As CBS was licensed by the NCAA to air the tournament, the NCAA apparently claims that as its date of first use.

Finally, the NCAA was not the first to register “March Madness” as a trademark. That honor went to a company called Intersport, Inc., which used the mark for sports programs it produced and registered the mark in 1989.

So, how did the NCAA get to claim ownership of the March Madness® trademark? The short answer is through litigation and negotiations over a period of many years. Although it has also been able to obtain federal registrations for Final Four® and Elite Eight,® it was late to the gate and was unable to snag “Sweet Sixteen” or “Sweet 16,” which are registered to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA). (The NCAA, however, has the KHSAA’s consent to register “NCAA Sweet Sixteen” and “NCAA Sweet 16.”)

The Final Score

Having invested so much in its trademarks, the NCAA takes policing its trademark rights very seriously. Even so, although the NCAA may send a cease-and-desist letter over the types of activities discussed above, some claims may not be a slam-dunk as there can be arguments to be made on both sides of these issues. If you plan to accept advertising incorporating an NCAA trademark or logo or plan to use an NCAA trademark or logo other than in the context of reporting on the tournament, you should consult with an experienced trademark attorney so you can make an informed decision about the level of risk that you may be taking on.

Pillsbury Advisory: A Sexual Harassment Sea Change for Employers?

Pillsbury recently released an Advisory on dealing with sexual harassment claims. 

“Sexual harassment within the workplace is not a new issue. In both Europe and the United States, the law has provided protection for employees against harassment for many years. A TUC/Everyday Sexism Report in 2016 conducted a survey of women in the UK workplace and found that over half (52 percent of those surveyed) had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace but that four out of five of these women did not report that sexual harassment to their employer, and nearly 50 percent did nothing at all, not even confiding in a family member or friend or other third party.” begins the advisory, authored by Paula M. Weber and Caron Gosling.

“Just over a year later, it has become clear that the landscape has changed. Recent events would appear to indicate that those on the receiving end of sexual harassment are perhaps now more inclined to speak out, and not just using internal complaints procedures, but also by involving the media, in high-profile cases, and by posting on social media platforms.”

It goes on to outline “Actions to Take if Faced with and Internal Complaint,” “Actions to Take if Faced with Complaints or Allegations Made via the Media, including Social Media,” “Actions to Take if Faced with Complaints or Allegations Made via the Media, including Social Media” and more.

You can find the full Advisory here: https://www.pillsburylaw.com/en/news-and-insights/a-sexual-harassment-sea-change-for-employers.html

2018 Update on Super Bowl Advertising and Promotions

Mitchell Stabbe
Mitchell Stabbe

By: Mitchell Stabbe, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP via the Broadcast Law Blog

For many years, we have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly allude to the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL. We are at that time of year again, so here is an updated version of our prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks. It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcast the Super Bowl pay the NFL in excess of $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years. Of course, the game generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the networks from advertisers. In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials seen (approximately $5 million for a 30-second spot), many advertisers spend more than $1 million to produce each ad. In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Not surprisingly, the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game. Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to be wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement. (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)

Simply put, the NFL views any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl to draw attention as a violation of its trademark rights. Many of the activities challenged by the league undoubtedly deserve a yellow flag. However, the NFL’s rule book defines trademark violations very broadly. If anyone were willing to throw the red flag to challenge the league’s position, a review from the booth might reverse some of those calls.

Advertising that Refers to the Super Bowl: Under trademark law, use of a third party’s trademark is considered to be permissible “nominative fair use” if the use does not suggest a relationship between the advertiser and the trademark owner and the trademarked goods or services cannot be readily identified without using the trademark. Nevertheless, the NFL objects to any unauthorized advertising that refers to the Super Bowl. For example, the use in advertising of taglines such as “Stock Up for the Super Bowl” for beer or snacks or “Get the Best View of the Super Bowl” for big-screen TVs has routinely led to the prompt issuance of cease-and-desist letters. The claim may be made directly against the advertiser, as well as against a broadcaster or other news organization that publishes the ad. As a result, many broadcasters should not accept advertising that specifically refers to the Super Bowl unless the advertiser first shows that it has NFL approval.

Other Marks: To overcome these problems, many advertisers now replace any reference to the “Super Bowl” with “The Big Game.” When advertisers commonly began using this tactic, NFL Properties tried to register THE BIG GAME as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. (The NFL also has federal trademark protection for “Super Sunday,” “Gameday,” “Back to Football,” “1st and GOAL” and over a hundred other marks.) Over twenty different parties threatened to oppose the application for THE BIG GAME and the NFL voluntarily abandoned the application. We are not aware of any reported claims by the NFL against advertisers based upon the use of “The Big Game.”

Following are some examples of other activities that create a significant risk of an objection by the NFL:

“Super Bowl” Events or Parties: A bar or restaurant that has a public performance license to show television programs on their premises has the right to show the Super Bowl broadcast to its patrons, but if it uses the words “Super Bowl” in its advertising to attract customers, the league will object. Similarly, a company should not be listed as the sponsor of a “Super Bowl” event or party. And, under copyright law, a fee should not be charged to watch the game.

Famously, in 2007, the NFL sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church group that had used “Super Bowl” to describe a viewing party for the game and would charge $3.00 per person to cover the cost of snacks. The NFL, however, will not object to a church viewing party for the Super Bowl if it is held in the church’s usual place of worship and no fee is charged for attending. Churches can, however, request donations to help cover the cost of the event. In addition, the League will not object to religious organizations that refer to their events as a Super Bowl party, provided that no NFL logos are used.

Sweepstakes or Giveaways (Naming or Prizes): Any sweepstakes or giveaway that incorporates “Super Bowl” in its name or as a prominent feature of its advertising should be avoided. Further, the NFL takes the position that game tickets cannot be offered as a prize or award. In most situations, the “first sale” doctrine under trademark law provides that the buyer of goods may do whatever it wants with its purchase, including reselling it or giving it away. Faced with this argument some years ago, the NFL (as well as the other sports leagues) now includes language on the back of tickets, prohibiting their use as part of a sweepstakes, giveaway or other promotion. While some might argue that the purchaser of a ticket will not even see this language until after the purchase is completed and therefore the terms have not been agreed to and are not binding, this argument has not precluded sports leagues from bringing claims when broadcasters have tried to do unauthorized giveaways with tickets bought on the open market. Tickets to an event are legally considered a license to attend the event, rather than a good that is sold, and therefore entry can be conditioned on any basis that does not violate public policy. Given the actions we have seen taken by sports leagues in the past, we would caution against contests involving ticket giveaways unless authorized by the NFL.

Names of Programs: Even if a broadcaster is not with the network that carries the Super Bowl (this year, NBC), it may want to produce a television program about the game. In years past, the NFL has repeatedly challenged local broadcasters that include the name of a team in a weekly program dedicated to discussions about the team. Thus, it would not be surprising if the NFL similarly objected to naming a pre-Super Bowl television program about the game if it incorporated “Super Bowl” in the title. (As discussed above, there is a strong argument that such naming constitutes permissible “nominative fair use.”)

Special Advertising: Newspapers and online news providers frequently have a special “section” that is devoted to coverage of the Super Bowl. The organization should be able to solicit advertising to accompany its stories, just as it does for any of its news reporting. It would be risky, however, to have an advertiser “sponsor” the coverage, particularly if “Super Bowl” is part of the name of the section.

Disclaimers: A disclaimer such as, “Not an Official Sponsor of the Super Bowl” or “This Advertisement (or Event) Has Not Been Licensed or Authorized by the NFL” will not ward off a cease-and-desist letter. Moreover, in the event of litigation, it is unlikely to provide a defense to a claim of infringement. And, even if the defense were ultimately successful, the defendant would still incur significant attorneys’ fees and other costs of litigation.

Masked Advertisements: A broadcaster who accepts an advertisement that wishes good luck to the players or congratulates the winning team, without expressly promoting the business’s goods or services, still runs a substantial risk. In recent years, some businesses that have run “congratulatory” pieces in honor of some achievement by an individual athlete have been sued. In one case, a jury rejected the defense that the business was engaged in protected non-commercial speech and awarded $8.9 million in damages. Although this verdict was based on a violation of the athlete’s right of publicity, it does not take much imagination to see a similar claim being made by a sports league based on its trademark rights.

Risk Analysis: The policy underlying protection of trademarks is to protect consumers against consumer confusion. That said, is there a meaningful difference between, for example, an ad that invites consumers to “Stock up for the Super Bowl” as opposed to one that says, “Stock up for the Big Game”? Do they convey different messages? Is one more likely than the other to confuse consumers into believing that the product being advertised is sponsored by, endorsed by, or otherwise affiliated with the NFL? Probably not.

So, why is the NFL so aggressive? The answer almost certainly lies in the fact that “official sponsors” of the Super Bowl and other trademark licensees would not be willing to pony up the huge sums they pay if a competitor could freely use the “Super Bowl” trademark or the game to promote itself without also paying a license fee. This risk is particularly high for those who have been promised exclusivity in a given category and the right to promote themselves as “The Official ——– of the Super Bowl.” Thus, the NFL has a huge incentive to prevent any advertising that may cross the line. Aggressive enforcement also has a significant deterrent effect on businesses who might be tempted to engage in Super Bowl-related advertising or promotions.

News organizations, however, have the right to use “Super Bowl” or other NFL marks in reporting on the game. (If they could not, viewers, listeners or readers would find themselves very confused!) That said, a news organization that wants press credentials for the game faces an additional risk if it accepts unauthorized Super Bowl-related advertising. Although news organizations are not required to have permission to report on an event, as a practical matter, their ability to do so from inside the stadium will be hampered by a refusal by the NFL to issue press credentials. (And, yes, we have seen professional sports leagues make such a threat.)

For these reasons, for most broadcasters and other news organizations, the better course is to be aware of and avoid any possible pitfalls, rather than run the risk of litigation.

Second Window for AM Stations to Seek New FM Translators to Open January 25-31

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,
BroadcastLawBlog.com

On December 4, the FCC released the Public Notice setting out the instructions for the final window for AM stations to get exclusive access to FM translator stations. This window, to be open in late January, is primarily for Class A and B AM stations that were not permitted to file in this summer’s window when Class C and D AM stations could file for new FM translators. But any AM licensee who did not file in this summer’s window, and who also did not acquire a translator last year during the period when AM licensees could acquire existing FM translators and move them up to 250 miles to rebroadcast their AM station, can also participate.

The final window will be open from January 25 through January 31. As in this summer’s window, mutually exclusive applications filed during that window will be resolved by an auction if they cannot be resolved by settlements or engineering solutions. Resolving mutually exclusive applications can be done only by filing settlements or technical amendments that comply with the minor change rules – meaning that the amendments can only amend to different sites on the same channel, or on channels three up and three down from that initially specified, or a channel precluded from use by the initially proposed channel because of Intermediate Frequency interference. Applicants cannot amend to any vacant channel that may be available in their area. In this summer’s window, most applicants were able to avoid mutual exclusivity with other applicants – but not all (as witnessed by the mutually exclusive groups that had until last week to settle their differences through dismissals for no more than out-of-pocket expenses or by engineering amendments – see our article here).

Like in this summer’s window, this Public Notice is complicated, as the FCC is treating these applications as those filed in preparation for an auction (see our post on the instructions for the summer window here). Applicants need to read this notice very carefully to avoid traps – traps which include having conversations with mutually exclusive applicants outside a future settlement window when engineering solutions to resolve conflicts between applications filed in the window will be allowed. There actually is a rule against “prohibited communications” outside of the settlement window – meaning that once an application is on file, mutually exclusive applicants can’t talk to each other about their applications except during these designated settlement windows.

As part of the Public Notice, the FCC also announced a filing freeze on any technical changes to existing translators so as to freeze the database that applicants will use to prepare their applications. The freeze will be in effect from January 18 through January 31.

In short, read these instructions carefully, and go over them with your attorney and engineer to make sure that you don’t inadvertently overlook some requirement that would result in your missing this last opportunity reserved for AM licensees to get a new FM translator.

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.

FCC Releases Tutorial on FM Translator Auction Window for AM Stations

David Oxenford - ColorBy: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

On July 13, The FCC released an online tutorial for the upcoming windows for filing for FM translators for AM stations. The first window will run from July 26 until 6 pm E.T. on August 2, where Class C and D AM stations that did not receive a translator in last year’s 250-mile waiver windows can file for a new FM translator to rebroadcast their AM station. We wrote about that window here.

The online tutorial may be accessed here.

The tutorial references various FCC filing guides to assist applicants in filing their applications. The Public Notice announcing the Tutorial also makes clear that, if an applicant has a pending application to acquire an AM station during the window, the proposed assignee can file the application for the new translator, presumably to be granted upon the acquisition of the station (as these translators are tied to the AM on a permanent basis). The current owner of the station and the proposed buyer cannot both file – only one application per station will be permitted. AM stations planning to take advantage of this window should be well into the process of preparing their applications for the window that opens in less than 2 weeks.

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 membership.

Annual EEO Public File Report Deadline for Stations in Michigan

June 1, 2017 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection file and post the report on their station website.

In addition, a certain group of these stations, as detailed below, must electronically file their EEO Mid-term Report on FCC Form 397 by June 1, 2017.

For more information, please read the advisory from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP here. (PDF download via MAB)

5 Questions on the Meaning of the FCC’s Recent Ruling on Online Recruiting – How Does it Change a Broadcaster’s EEO Obligations?

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

The FCC recently issued a declaratory ruling (which we summarized here) addressing the requirement that broadcasters widely disseminate information about all of their job openings in such a way as to reach all of the groups within their communities. The recent FCC decision stated that a broadcaster can now rely solely on online sources to meet the wide dissemination obligation. In the past, the sole reliance on online sources would have brought a fine from the FCC, so this is a big change for broadcasters – one which recognizes the realities in the world today as to where people actually go to find information about job openings.

This decision does not end all other EEO obligations imposed by the FCC rules. The Indiana Broadcasters Association recently asked me 5 questions about that new decision to highlight some of the other obligations that still arise under the FCC’s EEO rules. Here is that discussion of the continuing obligations under the EEO rules:

1. The FCC recently issued a Declaratory Ruling about how Job Openings should be posted. What’s changing?

The FCC is now permitting broadcasters (and cable companies) to meet their obligation to widely disseminate information about their job openings solely through the use of online recruitment sources. In the past, broadcasters were fined if they did not, in addition to online sources, use recruitment sources such as community groups, employment agencies, educational institutions and newspapers to solicit candidates for virtually all open positions at any station. Under the FCC’s new ruling, a broadcaster can use online recruitment sources as their sole means of meeting their obligation to widely disseminate information about job openings, as long as the broadcaster reasonably believes that the online source or sources that it uses are sufficient to reach members of the diverse groups represented in its community.

2. Are there still Equal Employment Opportunity requirements in place from the FCC?

This ruling does not abolish all EEO requirements. In addition to a general obligation to not discriminate in hiring and other employment practices, the FCC rules set out a three-prong EEO outreach program for broadcasters. The ruling addresses only the first prong – the obligation to widely disseminate information about virtually all job openings at a station. The other two prongs of the EEO program are undisturbed by the FCC’s recent ruling.

The second prong of the FCC’s EEO rules requires that broadcasters notify a community group about job openings at the station if the community group specifically asks to be notified of such openings. Stations need to continue to provide such notifications and to publicize the fact that community groups can ask to be included on the list of groups getting notifications.

The third prong of the EEO program for broadcasters is the obligation to do “non-vacancy specific outreach” – the menu options of efforts stations need to undertake to educate their community about the jobs available at broadcast stations and the training necessary to fill those jobs, as well as the training of employees and others to assume new responsibilities at broadcast stations. These menu options include activities such as internship and mentorship programs, speaking before community groups about job openings, providing scholarships to those interested in broadcasting, working with educational institutions to educate their students about broadcast jobs, training programs to prepare existing employees to assume new responsibilities and similar programs.

Broadcasters also need to continue to self-assess their program. If the sources that they are using for recruiting do not bring employment candidates from diverse sources, they need to consider changing the mix of recruitment tools that they are using. This obligation to review the success of their EEO outreach is not changed by the recent ruling.

3. Should a station still participate in State Association-sponsored Career Fairs, as a way to bolster EEO outreach?

Yes. As set forth in response to the last question, stations still need to do non-vacancy specific outreach efforts to inform members of their communities about broadcast jobs. One of the menu options available to meet that obligation is the attendance at job fairs by management-level employees who are involved in the hiring process. If station employees attend 4 job fairs in a two year period, they get one credit toward meeting their obligations (smaller stations need 2 credits in each two-year period measured from their license renewal filing date to meet their non-vacancy specific outreach requirements, larger stations in larger markets need 4 credits in a two-year period).

4. Any practices that can be curtailed because of the new ruling?

The new ruling allows a broadcaster to meet its wide dissemination obligation for all of its job openings if they use a single online recruiting source to publicize each opening, if the broadcaster reasonably believes that the online source that it is using will reach members of all groups within its community with information about its openings. That means that the broadcaster need no longer publish ads about job openings in the local newspaper and need no longer reach out to community groups to publicize job openings (except for those community groups that specifically asked to be notified about openings under “Prong 2” of the FCC’s EEO outreach obligations). However, the FCC suggested that it would be a good thing if broadcasters continued to reach out to community groups with information about job openings and to broadcast information about those openings on their own stations – but those outreach efforts are no longer mandatory.

5. Do you see any additional EEO-related changes on the horizon?

The FCC is about to commence a wide-ranging review of all of its rules applicable to broadcast stations looking to determine which ones are no longer necessary. Some have suggested that the remaining FCC EEO outreach obligations are no longer necessary. The FCC, under its statutory obligation to assess the character of all broadcast applicants and licensees, can always act against a station owner if the EEOC or state employment agencies find that the station has actually discriminated in its hiring or other employment practices.

Whether the FCC in fact goes further to deregulate EEO remains to be seen, but several commentators have suggested that the FCC divest itself of responsibilities where there is another government agency with more expertise. Thus, some think that, as there is an EEOC to deal with employment matters and other government agencies who deal with labor and other occupational issues, the FCC ought to reduce its duplicative efforts in this area.

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 membership.

FCC Finds Online Sources Satisfy EEO Requirements for Wide Dissemination of Job Openings by Broadcasters and MVPDs

David Oxenford - Color
David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

The FCC on Friday (4/21) released a declaratory ruling making it significantly easier for broadcasters and MVPDs to meet their EEO obligations imposed by FCC rules. These rules for broadcasters and MVPDs (cable and satellite TV providers) require that these businesses, when filling job openings, widely disseminate information about the openings in a manner that is expected to reach members of all community groups in the area from which employees are likely to be found. In the past, under the rules adopted in 2002, the Commission has not allowed recruitment to be conducted solely through online sources. Instead, the 2002 order suggested that the daily newspaper would, in many communities, be an outlet that would reach the diverse groups within a community – though most broadcasters supplemented newspaper publication with notifications to numerous schools, community organizations, educational institutions and others who might possibly refer employee candidates. Stations that relied solely on online sources faced substantial fines from the FCC (see the cases we summarized here and here).

The decision on Friday recognized that we are in a different world than when these rules were adopted almost 15 years ago. Now, most recruiting is done online. Thus, in response to a petition I filed on behalf of clients (summarized here), the FCC determined that a broadcaster or MVPD can rely solely on online sources in its recruiting. It no longer needs to use the newspaper, reach out to community groups or even use its own airwaves to give notice of job openings to satisfy the wide dissemination obligation. The FCC encouraged stations to continue to use some of these outreach methods, but it is no longer required. The broadcaster or MVPD needs to be reasonable in picking online sources that are likely to reach the members of various groups within its community – though the decision as to exactly which online employment sources to use will be left to the good-faith discretion of the broadcaster or MVPD. The Commission went so far as to say that, depending on the circumstances, a single online source could reasonably be found to be sufficient.

Note that this ruling does not change any other EEO requirement. Even though broadcasters no longer need to reach out to community groups to meet the requirement of wide dissemination of job openings, a separate “prong” of the FCC’s EEO policy still requires that broadcasters notify community groups of job openings when a group specifically asks to be notified of such openings. So all outreach to community groups is not over. Also, this ruling does not disturb the requirement that broadcasters engage in efforts to educate the public about broadcast employment opportunities and how to find those opportunities and to train for them. This requirement for non-vacancy specific outreach requires that a broadcaster conduct a certain number of menu options every two years – things like attending job fairs, participating in internship or scholarship programs and having employees speak at educational institutions or before community groups about broadcast employment.

Nor does the ruling lessen the paperwork requirements of completing an annual EEO public file report and otherwise retaining information about a station’s hiring practices. Random EEO audits will also continue (see our post here about the last EEO audit notice). For more about the FCC’s EEO rules, see our posts here and here. Even though some EEO obligations must continue to be observed by broadcasters, this is one step supported both by broadcasters and members of the minority community to bring FCC-required recruiting practices into the modern day.

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 membership.

Plan Your April Fools’ Day On-Air Pranks with the FCC in Mind

David Oxenford - ColorBy: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
www.broadcastlawblog.com

With April Fools’ Day only a few days away, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our annual reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other bits prepared especially for the day. While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes. While issues under this rule can arise at any time, broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1. The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused. Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.” Air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, and expect to be fined by the FCC.

This rule was adopted in the early 1990s after several incidents that were well-publicized in the broadcast industry, including one case where the on-air personalities at a station falsely claimed that they had been taken hostage, and another case where a station broadcast bulletins reporting that a local trash dump had exploded like a volcano and was spewing burning trash. In both cases, first responders were notified about the non-existent emergencies, actually responded to the notices that listeners called in, and were prevented from responding to real emergencies. In light of this sort of incident, the FCC adopted its prohibition against broadcast hoaxes. But, as we’ve reminded broadcasters before, the FCC hoax rule is not the only reason to be wary on April 1.

Beyond potential FCC liability, any station activity that could present the risk of bodily harm to a participant also raises the potential for civil liability. In cases where people are injured because first responders had been responding to the hoaxes instead of to real emergencies, stations could have faced potential liability. If some April Fools’ stunt by a station goes wrong, and someone is injured either because police, fire or paramedics are tied up responding to a false alarm, or if someone is hurt rushing to or from the scene of the non-existent calamity that was reported on a radio station, the victim will be looking for a deep pocket to sue – and broadcasters may become the target. Even a case that doesn’t result in liability can be expensive to defend and subject the station to unwanted negative publicity. So, have fun, but be careful how you do it.

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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