EEO do-over at FCC

Agency tries for third time to craft equal-employment rules

Broadcasters and cable systems would be required to revive minority- and gender-recruiting efforts under an FCC proposal unveiled last week.

Although the commission is considering a wide range of options, the agency's Mass Media Bureau specifically recommended a plan to require stations and cable systems to provide job notices for all vacancies to any organization that requests them. Plus, most would be required to choose among other recruitment initiatives, such as job fairs, internships and other community outreach. The commission also may require companies to collect data on the ethnicity and gender of applicants.

The obligations would apply to radio stations with more than 10 workers and to TV and cable outlets with more than five.

The FCC's original rules were struck down in 1998, and a revision was tossed out in January.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell voiced hope that the latest plan would end the lengthy court battle. "These rules are not onerous, and everyone knows they're not," he said prior to the commission's unanimous approval Dec. 12. He indicated that the commission will hold a hearing on the proposals early next year.

The court's latest objection arose because of the data-collection requirements. The judges found that the FCC's plan to review a company's applicant pool and order recruiting changes if it didn't like the demographic mix created enough pressure on employers to constitute a de facto, illegal quota. To avoid that snag this time, the FCC proposes to use the data only to monitor industry trends and report to Congress on industry progress.

Civil-rights attorney David Honig said he's grateful for the FCC's persistence. "Even if it takes five or six times, this is important enough to get right."

Besides the bureau recommendation, a broadcast-industry plan also under consideration would eliminate most outreach requirements for companies that list vacancies with online job banks.