The FCC has taken a step toward potentially restoring the mandate that broadcasters file data on the diversity of their workforces and that the data be available to the public.
Democrats in Congress, and at the FCC, have long called for a return to that data collection.
The annual collection of Form 395-B data on workforce composition (race and gender) has been in limbo for two decades. The filing of the form was suspended in 2001 following an appeals court decision* vacating part of the FCC's EEO requirements. Even though the FCC in 2004 revised the regulations on filing the form broadcasters still did not have to file it due to unresolved issues about the confidentiality of the data, issues that have yet to be resolved.
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In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) this week, the FCC said it wanted to "refresh" the record on Form 395-B data collection and related "legal, logistical and technical issues" of potentially lifting the suspension.
The NPRM "specifically asks for any additional input on the outstanding issue of whether employee data reported by broadcast licensees on Forms 395-B can or should be kept confidential and/or on a non-station-attributable basis."
The NPRM says that nothing in the court decisions on the FCC's EEO data collection--which were based on how the FCC used the data--prevents the FCC from simply collecting the data and making it publicly available.
The FCC said it was looking for comment on how to collect and handle the information in Form 395-B.
Broadcasters have argued that releasing the data to the public will pressure them to adopt impermissible race- and gender-based hiring decisions, which the courts ruled out, including by filing petitions to deny license renewals.
Also Read: MMTC Slams Broadcaster Arguments for Reducing EEO Reporting Obligations
The FCC asked if there were a way to make sure that the employment data was used only for analyzing industry trends and FCC reports to Congress.
The FCC is also pondering making the form 395-B information anonymous, rather than attributable to a particular station, as was the case before the filing was suspended.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.