Federal judges Friday indicated they might water down new broadcast-recruiting rules by striking portions tailored to make sure minorities are notified of job openings at TV and radio stations.
The new rules, issued in January, are being challenged by the 50 state-broadcasters associations. The industry says they're illegal because they make an applicant's race part of the hiring process. The rules require stations to pick one of two recruiting options: Under one, stations must provide job notices to any organization that requests them. Under the second option, stations may design their own recruitment program, but to ensure their efforts have demographically broad outreach, they must collect data on applicants' race and gender. The judges honed in particularly on the data-collection requirement.
The FCC's previous recruiting rules were struck down in 1998 because they were found to be de facto quotas, and the judges last week questioned whether the FCC was treading over the line again.
"Aren't you really looking for some enumeration of minority applicants," asked Judge David Sentelle.
"That's not [broadcasters'] responsibility," added Judge Douglas Ginsburg.
FCC General Counsel Christopher Wright said retaining a portion of the rules would be preferable to striking them entirely, but civil-rights attorney David Honig was more glum. "It appears we will have no rules or rules so ineffectual they will be meaningless," he said.-Bill McConnell