Media Bureau staff continues to check station websites for compliance

A couple-three years ago, we warned readers that the staff of the FCC’s Media Bureau appeared to be browsing the websites of broadcast stations, checking for compliance with the EEO rules. Actually the FCC staffers were then apparently checking for compliance with an imaginary EEO requirement that didn’t – and still doesn’t – exist, but the important take-home message was the same regardless: FCC staffers were inspecting broadcasters’ websites.

It appears that that practice continues.

Recently, an FCC staff member emailed us, questioning whether one of our clients had posted its annual EEO report on its website. (As noted below, the rules do require such posting.) The staffer reported that she had been unable to find the report on the site. Happily, we were able to confirm (and demonstrate) that the report had in fact been posted – albeit not necessarily in the most obvious place on the station’s site – and the staffer apparently went away satisfied.

But that encounter prompts us to remind broadcasters that their websites are wide-open for inspection by anybody, including FCC staffers.  And nowadays those staffers are apparently motivated to engage in such inspection in connection with the license renewal process, which is swinging into high gear. (Two batches of renewals have been filed already, with more to come at two-month intervals for the next few years.)

The Commission’s rules currently specify only one type of “public file” document that must be included on a station’s website (assuming, of course, that the station has elected to have a website): the licensee’s most recent annual EEO report, the specs for which may be found in Section 73.2080(c)(6) of the rules. (Obscure regulatory factoid: The public file rule technically still requires that DTV transition education reports – Form 388 – be posted on websites. However, since the retention period for those reports is only one year, and since all but a dozen or so TV stations completed their move to digital more than a year ago and thus no longer have to file Form 388, the continuing impact of that particular requirement is minimal at this point.)

Of course, stations with fewer than five full-time employees are exempt from the annual EEO report requirement. But if you are not exempt, and if you do have a website, it would be a good idea to be sure that your most recent EEO report is posted there. While the rule does not specify how prominently the report is to be posted, it would probably be a good idea to make it pretty darned easy to get to the report from the station’s home page. That should assist FCC staffers in locating the report at your site – thus enabling them to move on to somebody else’s site that much quicker.

Our recent interaction with the staff did not indicate that the FCC is looking to dole out fines to stations that don’t happen to have posted their reports as required. But you never know.