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Starks Urges FCC to Resume Collecting Workforce Data

“Whole communities are harmed when they are subjected to content that lacks balance, fairness or accuracy”

Geoffrey Starks, part of the new Democratic majority on the FCC, says it’s time for the commission to resume collecting data from broadcasters about the diversity of their workforces.

“Collecting this data — which we are statutorily required to do — will help the agency and Congress better understand the landscape of the media workforce,” the commissioner said.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said she supports return of the form.

FCC Form 395-B is intended to gather workforce composition data from broadcasters including race and gender, but hasn’t been collected since 2001. The collection of the form, which gathers information from broadcasters with five or more full-time employees, was suspended because of a legal ruling and other unresolved issues.

Reviewing the history of the issue, Starks noted that in 1970 the FCC began requiring broadcasters to submit annual employment reports listing the composition of their workforce in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

“Let’s fast forward to 1992. That’s when Congress, after seeing the FCC collect this data for 22 years, amended the Communications Act to affirm the commission’s authority to do so.” Congress enacted a new section of the act requiring the commission to maintain its EEO regulations, including its collection of workforce diversity data on Form 395-B.

He noted that in 2019, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Yvette Clarke asked then-Chairman Ajit Pai to reinstate the practice.

“We have fallen down on that statutory duty for far too long,” Starks wrote. “Until now. In 2021, we resurrected the docket, beginning the long-overdue work of assessing and addressing comments regarding our statutory duty to collect workforce diversity data.”

He said now that the record is complete, “it is time, in fact past time, for us to resume our responsibility.”

NAB’s position

The National Association of Broadcasters in 2021 told the FCC that it did not object to resumption of the form, as long as station data is kept confidential and any related information made publicly available “is provided on an anonymous, aggregated basis.”

[Related: “FCC Could Recommence Race and Gender Reporting for Broadcasters”]

NAB said that the return of the form is “likely to merely increase paperwork burdens without offering much corresponding value,” and that the FCC proposal provided no evidence that data collection is needed or will increase diversity.

NAB argued then that “better use of the commission’s time would be to reach out to broadcasters and ask exactly how the commission can be helpful to our efforts to increase diversity.”

It also said that making publicly available the required employment data on a station-attributable basis “will unlawfully pressure broadcasters to adopt race- or gender-based hiring practices” and that “publishing the racial composition of each broadcaster’s workforce would clearly exceed the FCC’s authority.”

And it noted that the FCC already selects approximately 5% of radio and television stations annually for a thorough EEO audit.

Shaping perspective

“Diversity matters,” Starks wrote in his remarks this week. “This is particularly clear in the media space, where representation is not abstract or hypothetical — it directly impacts what stories are told, and who gets to tell them. Who sits in front of the camera; who decides what is newsworthy; who is in charge of hiring and firing. All of these factors influence what news gets reported and what doesn’t; what programming we see, and what we don’t. And in turn, that shapes how we see the world.”

He gave the example of a newspaper, the Kansas City Star, which in 2020 issued an apology, writing that through its news coverage over decades the paper had “disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians … Like most metro newspapers of the early to mid-20th century, The Star was a white newspaper produced by white reporters and editors for white readers and advertisers.”

He said that while individual employees and candidates are harmed by such a work environment, “whole communities are harmed when they are subjected to content that lacks balance, fairness or accuracy.”

[Related: “Rosenworcel Ready to Hit Fast Forward”]

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