Powell pans minority recruiting ruling

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FCC Chairman Michael Powell Thursday said he was "personally disappointed" by a federal appeal court's decision to rejected the agency's request for a new hearing on the government's minority and gender recruiting rules for broadcasters and cable systems.

The FCC is studying whether to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court, but if the case goes no further Powell told the federal communications bar that he will urge his fellow commissioners to write new recruiting rules that can pass court scrutiny. Of the rule's two compliance options, the FCC had asked court to preserve one that would have required stations to provide job notices to any organization that requested. Most stations also would have been required to choose four of 13 recruitment initiatives such as job fairs, scholarships and training programs.

The appeals court in January said it had no problem with that option, but because a second option was struck down, it tossed out the entire regimen. Under the second option, which the court found to be a defacto, unconstitutional quota, stations could have designed their own recruitment programs.

To ensure their efforts were demographically broad, though, stations would have had to collect data on applicants' race and gender. If the FCC was unhappy with the number of minority and women applicants generated by a station's outreach, the agency reserved the right to review and order changes to a its employment recruiting program.

Because one of the FCC's stated goals was to offer broadcasters flexibility in meeting recruiting obligations, five of the nine members of the federal appeals court in Washington said the FCC could not preserve just the first option. - Bill McConnell

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