By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP,
Eight Michigan Stations on the FCC Audit List, including 2 commercial FM stations, 3 non-commercial FMs, 2 commercial TV stations and 1 non-commercial TV.
On Friday, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing its first EEO audit of 2018. The Notice lists the almost 300 radio and television stations that will be subject to the review as well as the rules that apply to that audit. And those rules are somewhat new. First, the notice itself was not sent by mail, but instead by email – the first time that email has been used to deliver the notice of an EEO audit. Some broadcasters who received the email seemed surprised and wondered if the email really was an official FCC communication, so the FCC included verification methods in the letter including a link to the Public Notice. So, if you are listed on the Public Notice, you are subject to the audit.
Second, the procedure for responding to the audit is different. No longer does the broadcaster subject to the audit have to submit paper copies of all of its documents to the FCC through the FCC Secretary’s office. Instead, the response will be filed in the station’s online public file. The response must be uploaded to the online public file by April 12. There, the FCC can review that response (as can anyone else anywhere, at any time, as long as they have an internet connection). The audit requires that the broadcaster submit their last two EEO Public File Reports (which should already be in the online public file) and backing data to support the outreach efforts. Broadcasters subject to the audit should carefully review the audit letter to see the details of the filing.
If any station in your cluster is on the list of audited stations, all stations in that “station employment unit” (a group of commonly owned stations serving the same area with at least one common employee) must respond. If that cluster has 5 or more full-time employees, it must observe the FCC’s EEO requirements and respond to this audit. If a station that is being audited is involved in an LMA with another broadcaster, the audit may require that the broker provide employment information as well as the licensee. There are some exceptions where stations can be excused from the audit for stations renewed or audited in the recent past.
Be sure to take care in responding to the EEO audit as the FCC will be reviewing it carefully, and issues with the audit can lead to fines. Even though the FCC has allowed online recruiting to be the sole method in which a station recruits new employees (see our article here), if a station does not keep the required paperwork and submit it in response to the audit, the station can still be fined by the FCC (see the article here about recent EEO fines). So check the audit list twice to see if your station is on it, and if it is, take your time and answer carefully.
David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access).
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