FCC OKs rules on equal employment

Nov 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission last week unanimously approved new equal employment opportunity regulations that differ from past regulations in that they don’t specifically target women and minorities.
It’s part of an agency effort to require broadcasters, cable operators and other multichannel TV operators to open their employment doors to newcomers-without running afoul of the constitutional concerns that led the federal courts to ax the agency’s two previous versions of the EEO regulations.
“The rules we adopt today include a broad outreach program that is squarely race and gender neutral and, thus, not constitutionally suspect,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.
While the old rules targeted women and minorities, the new ones require stations only to publicize vacancies and participate in job fairs and the like, without any explicit obligation that the effort focus on any particular class of persons.
Some industry sources are concerned that the regulations’ target-women and minorities-is clear, even if the FCC has blurred its objective for legal reasons.
But one well-placed FCC official said, “It’s not about race or gender. It’s about everybody having access to employment.”
Another top FCC official made clear that he wouldn’t take kindly to an industry lawsuit against the new rules. “I would surely be immensely disappointed if anyone challenged this modest proposal,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who added that he hopes the agency will beef up the regulations in the future.
“I for one … would be more than amenable to imposing strong and serious sanctions-very strong and very serious, up to and including revocation of licenses-for demonstrated lack of compliance,” Mr. Copps said.
The new rules specifically require broadcasters to provide job information to community groups that request it, and to document and report on their recruitment efforts.
In a statement the FCC said it decided to postpone a decision on whether to require the industry to collect information on the race, ethnicity and gender makeup of its work force. Nonetheless, the FCC said the information, if collected, would not be used to determine a station’s EEO compliance.
Said Mr. Powell, “The public benefits of individuals in our society having equal employment opportunities based on merit rather than discriminatory factors are so numerous they are impossible to list.”
Everett Parker, treasurer of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, said the new regulations would “contribute substantially to the diversity and competitiveness of our electronic mass media industries.”
But Eddie Fritts, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said, “NAB has long been concerned with over-regulatory EEO rules that create undue paperwork burdens, particularly on small-market broadcasters. It appears today’s new rules have done little to reduce these burdens.”