Last month, in a blog posting about apparent FCC monitoring of station websites (to see if stations’ Form 397s – the mid-term EEO report – are being posted on those websites), we indicated that Form 397 is required to be posted on the website of each station required to submit a Form 397. That was based on what a Commission staffer informally told one of our colleagues. That staffer also advised that the staffer’s job activities include on-line checking on whether Form 397s have been posted on stations’ websites.
We have since done some double- and triple-checking of our own, and as it turns out, the rules do not require Form 397 to be placed on a station’s website. No such requirement of website posting is imposed, implicitly or explicitly, by the public file rules (Section 73.3526 and 73.3527) or by the EEO rule (Section 73.2080). In fact, those rules don’t even require, explicitly or implicitly, that Form 397 be placed in the station’s hard-copy local public inspection file. While the instructions to Form 397 do explicitly state that a copy of the Form 397 “must be kept in the station’s public file”, those instructions say nothing about posting the Form 397 on the station’s website.
Still, as noted above and in our earlier posting, we were advised by the Commission’s staff that they understand that website posting of Form 397 is de rigueur and, moreover, that they are doing their own on-line spot-checks for compliance.
What to do?
We have contacted a senior FCC official whose responsibilities include EEO enforcement. He has confirmed our research: Form 397 is NOT required to be placed on any station’s website. He also assured us that, if there is any misunderstanding on that point among FCC staff, he will correct it right away.
Note that, even if monitoring for the presence of Form 397 stops (as we expect it will), the fact remains that FCC staffers can still visit station websites — anonymously and long-distance — to check out, f’rinstance, the on-line availability of annual EEO public file reports (which are required to be posted on station websites). In other words, long-distance snooping may still go on — it just won’t involve the supposed violation of imaginary rules. Licensees with websites should continue to maintain them in accordance with the rules that do exist, particularly since prying eyes may be watching . . .