FCC adopts rules to increase outreach to minorities, women

By Kalpana Srinivasan, Associated Press, 1/21/2000

WASHINGTON (AP) Broadcasters and cable companies must institute programs to widely disseminate information about their job opportunities in an effort to reach out to minorities and women under new federal rules.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted measures Thursday aimed at increasing diversity and offered guidelines for broadcasters and cable companies to follow to comply with the order. They include sending out job vacancy announcements to recruitment organizations that request them and using job fairs, internship programs and scholarships to reach a broader audience.

Broadcasters or cable operators who want more flexibility can design their own programs, but they must track the race and gender of their applicants to monitor the effectiveness of these efforts, the commission decided.

''Outreach efforts should be effective, not symbolic,'' said FCC Commissioner Susan Ness. She encouraged companies to use creative approaches such as Internet-based job banks to spread the word about opportunities.

The rules allow religious broadcasters to use religious affiliation as a job qualification for all station employees.

The commission was careful to craft rules that would further the goals of diversity, while not running afoul of a 1998 court decision that overturned the agency's equal employment opportunity requirements.

To satisfy the court's decision, the FCC dropped pieces of it old rules namely a requirement that stations and local cable systems review whether their work force reflects the racial composition of the markets they serve. The court determined that this pressured stations into hiring minorities.

Officials stressed that the new FCC measures do not require companies to hire particular applicants.

The rules do require broadcasters and cable companies to place information about their outreach efforts in their public file. They must also file annual employment reports, which would contain more detailed information about employees. But the commission insisted that it would use the reports only to monitor industry trends, not to review the background of candidates hired by the company.

But Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, who dissented in the 4-1 vote, said the new regulations trigger some of the same concerns as the ones scuttled by the court.

''The commission's continued insistence on requiring broadcasters to classify applicants and employees based on their race and gender, factors that should be irrelevant to a person's job qualifications, is legally troublesome,'' he said.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, an activist group that defended the previous equal employment opportunity rules in court, applauded the FCC's action.

Kim Gandy, executive president of the National Organization for Women, said while the rules are an important step, they ultimately leave it up to broadcasters to determine how they go about doing their outreach.

The National Association of Broadcasters said it was reviewing the rules.

''We're hopeful that this does not add to an already considerable paperwork burden on broadcasters,'' said spokesman Dennis Wharton.