On February 14, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC,” or the “Commission”) released a Report and Order in which it eliminated the requirement that certain broadcast television and radio stations file a Broadcast Mid-Term Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Report (Form 397). As we reported back in January, the FCC found that the Form 397 reporting obligation became unnecessarily redundant following the completion of the transition of all broadcasters to the Online Public Inspection File (“OPIF”) – which makes most of the information in the Form 397 (i.e., the station’s annual EEO public file reports) available to the public online.
The FCC previously used the Form 397 to identify whether a broadcaster’s station employment unit had enough full-time employees to trigger a mid-term EEO review. In its place, the Commission will now require radio stations to report their staffing size when they upload an EEO public file report to a station’s OPIF. This question will not be effective until after it receives Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval. In contrast, such a question is unnecessary for television stations because the act of uploading an EEO public file report to a station’s OPIF demonstrates that a station is subject to a mid-term EEO review. While all television station employment units filing EEO public file reports are subject to mid-term review, some radio station employment units (those with 5-10 full-time employees) must file annual public file reports, but are not subject to a mid-term review.
The Commission also used the Report and Order as an opportunity to announce that it will be issuing a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking within the next 3 months seeking comments on the FCC’s EEO enforcement track record, and proposals on ways the agency could improve its EEO enforcement efforts.
The elimination of the Form 397 will be effective as of May 1, 2019 – thereby allowing time for the completion of the current mid-term renewal cycle as television stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania must still file their Forms 397 by April 1, 2019. The new EEO-related changes to the OPIF, however, are not effective as of May 1, 2019. Instead, they will become effective some time after OMB approval of those changes.