Stations Must Track Race, Gender

Broadcast stations and cable systems must provide the Federal Communications Commission with annual employment reports breaking down the ethnic and gender breakdown of their work forces, the commission said June 4.

The FCC said the information will be used only to track industry trends and will not be used to judge whether the companies' employment outreach efforts are sufficiently reaching minority and female job-seekers.

The reporting requirement is an offshoot of the equal employment opportunity rules the FCC approved November 2002 requiring broadcasters and cable operators to design recruiting programs aimed at reaching a more diverse pool of job seekers.

Previous court rulings prohibit the FCC from reviewing a licensee's employment ranks to determine whether the outreach efforts are sufficient.  Because of fear that civil rights groups or other third parties will use the data as basis for complaints or lawsuits or to induce changes in licensees' hiring patterns, industry groups are asking that a licensee's employment breakdown be kept confidential.

The FCC is leaving the door open to that request while it asks for additional public input on it.

The commissioners say outreach rules are needed to rectify decades of discrimination against
minorities and women in media hiring, either. The FCC first  imposed EEO responsibilities on broadcasters in 1969, extended the obligations to cable operators in 1984 and added all pay-TV distributors in 1992. In 1998, however, federal appeals judges found a provision allowing license renewals to be challenged when a station's demographic makeup didn't reflect local population was an illegal de facto quota.

A less demanding revision issued in 2001 also was thrown out. The FCC is currently in the processing of auditing stations with EEO compliance.