Broadcasters Split on EEO Rules

NAB keeps hands off; state groups fight paperwork

Small broadcast groups and single-station owners can't count on help from the major broadcast companies in their battle against the paperwork requirements of the FCC's new EEO recruiting rules.

The umbrella group of state broadcasters associations is expected to call on the FCC to reconsider its new rules next month after successfully challenging the previous version in court as an undue burden on stations. The National Association of Broadcasters eschewed the court fight last time around but did urge the FCC to examine a lengthy list of objections mirroring the state broadcast groups'. This time around, the NAB is leaving the fight entirely to the state associations. Two weeks ago, the NAB board said it will not challenge the FCC's new EEO rules and directed the organization's staff to use "all possible efforts" to help stations comply.

Ostensibly, the two organizations represent the same industry, but separate factions of the industry hold sway over each. National holdings allow groups like Clear Channel, Hearst-Argyle, Cox, Tribune and Post-Newsweek to concentrate their power to direct much of the NAB's actions. Their influence is more diluted among state associations, though, and the smaller owners have more say in the state groups' umbrella association.

Small station groups oppose new recruiting rules—set to go into effect March 10—that require stations to document their recruiting outreach efforts in the public files they have to maintain at their main studios. Stations must "widely disseminate" vacancy notices and participate in several recruiting options, including job fairs, scholarships and internships. All sources of referrals, dates and publications of ad listings and job vacancies must be recorded.

The group of state broadcasters associations has been fighting for a simpler rule that would allow Internet job postings to suffice. "The commission's refusal unnecessarily forces broadcasters to rely more heavily upon less efficient and less effective dissemination methodologies and, as a consequence, to unnecessarily increase their recordkeeping and reporting burdens," the group said in comments to the FCC two weeks ago.

"It's not cheap," said Phil Roberts, executive director of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association. To help Garden State stations comply, he has set up a job-posting Web site and issues a joint job-vacancy announcement for non-profits that ask to be contacted. The association also hosts four job fairs annually and offers scholarships for broadcasting students attending in-state colleges.

The package costs his group roughly $100,000 a year, and not all stations can count on their state association to foot the bill, he said. Large station groups, however, can set up similar programs and spread the cost across hundreds of stations.

One large-group lobbyist agreed that the rules are not such a burden for the bigger companies and said the NAB "was wise to let go" of the fight.