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Today, EEO Rules Are Harming Stations

Attorney Richard Hayes asks FCC to suspend Equal Employment Opportunity regulations

Communications attorney Richard Hayes has been busy during the coronavirus pandemic, sending a letter to the FCC with a number of suggestions, many, if not all of which would help his clients survive. See here.

 He has now sent a more detailed letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai concerning, temporarily at least, relieving stations of EEO regulations while the coronavirus pandemic continues. This idea was outlined in the previous letter.

 Here follows the text of the latest letter.

Everyone in the radio industry appreciates your proactive stance in helping stations survive during this virus by eliminating unnecessary and burdensome rules. Please keep up the good work. There is more you can do and that is the reason for this letter.

I represent about 100 different radio stations across the country. They are struggling more now than they ever have in the 38 years I have been practicing communications law. Station revenues are down 50, 60, 70 and 80%. Many small stations, particularly standalone AM and FM broadcasters, were struggling before the pandemic and the likelihood that some will financially survive is doubtful. If the crisis continues, you can expect to see stations filing Special Temporary Authority requests to shut down until they can operate profitably. Some are already in advanced discussions to go silent.

Here is a big way you might be able to help. From what I have observed, the EEO program, as it applies to broadcasters, is a total waste of time. First, broadcasting is not a suspect industry which requires such monitoring.  Second, the EEO program is toothless. What other industry has to jump through these pointless hoops? Suggesting that the EEO program prevents discrimination is not supported by any data and no data has ever been provided to the public to show that the EEO program, as administered by the FCC, is in any way effective.

Widely recruiting for specialized positions is an empty gesture and solves no discrimination problems. Forcing stations to conduct meaningless EEO initiatives is also counterproductive. Before the pandemic, conducting a job fair when the station had no job openings really annoys the public and irritates the radio station. Now that we are facing extreme unemployment, I doubt that any of the EEO initiatives are appropriate. Stations will hire back their furloughed employees. I note that there has been some relief for broadcasters in this regard as the commission has stated that there will be a 90-day window in which stations may hire back their furloughed employees without having to recruit. They planned to do so, anyway. This relief doesn’t go far enough.

Yesterday [May 20], I completed an EEO Public File Report for a small cluster of stations in rural Indiana. That report was 324 pages long! All of those pages were necessary to complete the report. Two months ago, for the same cluster of stations, I prepared a detailed Audit Response. These reports provide nothing regarding the prevention of discrimination. They are composed of page after page of advertising “copy” with hundreds of pages showing the exact times each announcement was aired. The report detailed EEO initiatives with “copy” and exact times despite the fact that the stations have had to furlough employees and drastically reduce expenses just to stay on the air.

The EEO program is a pointless burden which the commission cannot rationally defend (other than politically). That small, rural cluster of Indiana radio stations had to pull one employee from other critical duties for more than a week in order to assemble all of the EEO materials required for the report. Other employees such as news directors and traffic personnel were also required to divert their attention to the EEO report’s compilation. This is a total waste of resources, especially now.

Please consider suspending the EEO rules for the duration of the crisis. It would also be helpful if the entire EEO program was placed under review to determine if it is actually making any difference or if it just squandering limited financial and personnel resources for nothing more than a political benefit.

Thank you for your consideration.