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FCC Is Expected to Readopt Rules on Equal Employment

Courts have rejected the regulations twice, but the agency's chairman says they are vital to increasing diversity on television.

November 07, 2002|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Hoping the third time is a charm, the Federal Communications Commission today is expected to readopt rules requiring broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers to broaden their outreach for minority and female employees.

The contested rules have been tossed out twice by a federal appeals court, which said the agency created de facto quotas and pressured broadcasters to hire based on race and gender.

Some predicted that the rules would die quietly under FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, a Republican with a hands-off regulatory approach. But Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, has championed the equal opportunity rules, saying they are vital to increasing diversity on television.

The new rules are expected to require broadcasters and pay-television providers to do broad outreach before filling any full-time position, and participate in recruiting activities such as job fairs and advertising campaigns.

The commissioners are expected to delay action on one of the most controversial elements of the rules: requiring broadcasters to file annual reports listing the race and title of all employees, sources said.

Cable operators have long supported the proposed rules, but state broadcasting associations and the National Assn. of Broadcasters remain opposed, saying the rules would violate their rights and impose burdensome new paperwork requirements.

Broadcasters also oppose the annual reports, saying they fear they could be used by civil rights groups to file discrimination lawsuits.

An NAB spokesman declined to comment, but association attorneys have said in filings that they would prefer tax credits to encourage minority and female hiring.

Smaller broadcasters are particularly opposed to the rules, saying that even a simple requirement to post all job listings could have unintended consequences.

"If you're not happy with your morning-drive [disc jockey] and you want to hire someone else, you may not want him to know about that," said Barry Gottfried, an attorney representing several state broadcasting associations.

Instead, broadcasters proposed listing some, but not all, job openings on the Internet, he said.

Supporters of the equal employment opportunity rules say they are astounded by broadcasters' opposition, particularly in light of studies that show their industry has a poor record in hiring minority and female workers.

"This is the most modest program you could have," said David Honig, executive director of the Minority Media & Telecom Council, the leading proponent of the rules. "That exposes to me that these groups are not interested in integrating their businesses."

He said a recent study by two Rutgers University law professors found that minority and female employment was so low at some broadcast companies that researchers concluded that discrimination must be intentional.

The original equal employment rules were adopted in the 1960s and required broadcasters' work force to reflect the diversity of their community. But those rules were thrown out in 1998.

The commission's second attempt to draft rules ran into similar problems in 2001, when a federal appellate court found one provision was unconstitutional.

In crafting the new rules, Powell sought to address the court's concerns and reduce the chance of reversal. But Commissioner Michael J. Copps, the sole Democrat at the FCC, complained that the new rules now are not tough enough, sources said.

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