Operators Back Employment Diversity Rules

Noting that women and minorities remain underrepresented in the television industry, MSO executives last Monday endorsed pending Federal Communications Commission employment diversity rules.

Federal courts have twice struck down as unconstitutional FCC equal-employment opportunity rules that require cable operators and broadcasters to aggressively recruit minorities and women.

The FCC tried a third time in December, when it unveiled proposed rules that would reinstate portions of the earlier regulations.

The latest iteration would force operators and broadcasters to broadly publicize their job openings and to collaborate with local groups to recruit members of underrepresented demographic groups. They would also be required to keep track of their outreach efforts and report annually to the FCC about their progress.

In April, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association lauded the FCC proposal and its members vowed to voluntarily comply with the rules.

At an FCC hearing on the proposed rules, cable-industry executives echoed their previous praise.

"It's not only right — it's absolutely appropriate — that cable television companies like ours should take an active role in helping change the employment landscape," Time Warner Cable President Tom Baxter said. He was one of 14 witnesses to testify on behalf of cable operators, broadcasters and civil-rights groups.

"A diverse workforce is not just a social goal. It's a business imperative," said Baxter, who noted that local cable operators employ multilingual workers and must satisfy demands for niche programming.

The American Cable Association, though, urged the commission to raise the threshold for exemption for smaller cable companies and streamline the reporting process to improve data collection by these smaller firms.

In written comments and testimony before the FCC, the ACA asked the FCC to exempt smaller operators that serve 15,000 or fewer subscribers from detailed EEO outreach requirements or, in the alternative, apply such relief to cable employment units with 10 or fewer employees.

"For the majority of ACA's members, compliance with the EEO obligations takes away scarce resources from their already lean budgets and overstretched employees," ACA president Matt Polka said in prepared comments.

ACA proposed a new one-page Form 395-A that can be filed by smaller cable companies to report on the number of subscribers served, the number of full-time hires during the reporting period and the company's outreach efforts during the reporting period.

Chairman Michael Powell lamented "the relatively low [and] persistently stagnant" numbers of women and minorities in the broadcast and cable television industries.

"The amount of representation achieved over the decades in this area is nothing to be proud of," he said. "I don't know what all the solutions are. Government can contribute a portion to it, but … it will be a modest contribution to making significant inroads. At the end of the day, it will take corporate leadership."

Powell also questioned whether the equal employment opportunity rules should apply to cable operators, which do not have the same public-interest obligations as broadcasters.

Advocates of applying the employment rules to both cable operators and broadcasters said all media companies should be held to stricter diversity standards than other businesses.

But Powell asked, "Isn't that argument equally true of the newspaper industry … or other components of industry that have an important impact on society?"

States News Service