Articles Posted in Television

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June 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances,[1] (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.

Deadline for the Annual EEO Public File Report for Nonexempt Radio and Television SEUs

Consistent with the above, June 1, 2023 is the date by which Nonexempt SEUs of radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above, including Class A television stations, must (i) place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files of all stations comprising the SEU, and (ii) post the Report on the websites, if any, of those stations.  LPTV stations are also subject to the broadcast EEO Rule, even though LPTV stations are not required to maintain a Public Inspection File.  Instead, these stations must maintain a “station records” file containing the station’s authorization and other official documents and must make it available to an FCC inspector upon request.  Therefore, if an LPTV station has five or more full-time employees, or is otherwise part of a Nonexempt SEU, it must prepare an Annual EEO Public File Report and place it in its station records file.

These Reports will cover the period from June 1, 2022 through May 31, 2023.  However, Nonexempt SEUs may “cut off” the reporting period up to ten days before May 31, so long as they begin the next annual reporting period on the day after the cut-off date used in the immediately preceding Report.  For example, if the Nonexempt SEU uses the period June 1, 2022 through May 21, 2023 for this year’s report (cutting it off up to ten days prior to May 31, 2023), then next year, the Nonexempt SEU must use a period beginning May 22, 2023 for its report.

Deadline for Performing Menu Option Initiatives

The Annual EEO Public File Report must contain a discussion of the Menu Option initiatives undertaken during the preceding year.  The FCC’s EEO Rule requires each Nonexempt SEU to earn a minimum of two or four Menu Option initiative-related credits during each two-year segment of its eight-year license term, depending on the number of full-time employees and the market size of the Nonexempt SEU.

  • Nonexempt SEUs with between five and ten full-time employees, or that are located in “smaller markets,” must earn at least two Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.
  • Nonexempt SEUs with 11 or more full-time employees and which are not located in “smaller markets” must earn at least four Menu Option credits over each two-year segment.

The SEU is deemed to be located in a “smaller market” for these purposes if the communities of license of the stations comprising the SEU are (1) in a county outside of all metropolitan areas, or (2) in a county located in a metropolitan area with a population of less than 250,000 persons.

Because the filing date for license renewal applications varies depending on the state in which a station’s community of license is located, the time period in which Menu Option initiatives must be completed also varies.  Radio and television stations licensed to communities in the states identified above should review the following to determine which current two-year segment applies to them:

  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, must heave earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two year “segment” between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt radio station SEUs licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2024, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Michigan and Ohio must have earned at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2023, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.
  • Nonexempt television station SEUs licensed to communities in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming must earn at least the required minimum number of Menu Option credits during the two-year “segment” between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2024, as well as during the previous two-year “segments” of their license terms.

Recommendations

It is critical that every SEU maintain adequate records of its performance under the EEO Rule and that it practice overachieving when it comes to earning the required number of Menu Option credits.  The FCC will not give credit for Menu Option initiatives that are not duly reported in an SEU’s Annual EEO Public File Report or that are not adequately documented.  Accordingly, before an Annual EEO Public File Report is finalized and made public by posting it on a station’s website or placing it in the Public Inspection File, the draft document, including supporting material, should be reviewed by communications counsel.

Finally, note that the FCC is continuing its program of EEO audits.  These random audits check for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule, and are sent to approximately five percent of all broadcast stations each year.  Any station may become the subject of an FCC audit at any time.  For more information on the FCC’s EEO Rule and its requirements, as well as practical advice for compliance, please contact any of the attorneys in Pillsbury’s Communications Practice.

A PDF of this article can be found at EEO Public File Deadline

[1] In light of the significant layoffs and workforce reductions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC has waived the requirement that broadcasters engage in broad outreach when rehiring employees that were laid off in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, but only where the employee is rehired within nine months of being laid off.  Additional information on this limited waiver of EEO obligations can be found in our CommLawCenter article on this subject.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Connecticut Radio Station Risks Losing License Due to Unpaid Regulatory Fees
  • TV Translator Licensee Faces $16,500 Fine for Late License Renewal Applications
  • Voice Call Gateway Provider Accused of Flouting Call Blocking Rules, Faces Further Enforcement Action

Failure to Pay 8 Years of Regulatory Fees Puts Connecticut AM Radio Station License in Jeopardy

A Connecticut AM radio station is at risk of losing its license for failing to pay regulatory fees for eight years. The licensee currently owes more than $27,000 in unpaid regulatory fee debt, and additional charges will continue to accrue until the debt is paid in full.

Under Section 9 of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 1.1151 of the FCC’s Rules, the FCC each year assesses regulatory fees on its regulatees to cover the costs of operating the agency. The fees are typically due during the last two weeks of September so that the agency is fully funded at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year on October 1. When payments are late or incomplete, the Communications Act and FCC Rules require a penalty assessment of 25% of the fee owed plus interest.

In addition, when regulatory fees or interest go unpaid, the FCC is authorized to revoke affected licenses and authorizations. In this case, the FCC sent demand letters to the licensee and its counsel, but payment was still not made. Ultimately, the Commission transferred the unpaid debts from years prior to fiscal year 2021 to the United States Department of Treasury for collection. Later, at the Commission’s request, the debt collection responsibility was transferred back to the FCC.

In an Order to Pay or Show Cause, the FCC gave the licensee 60 days to file with the Media Bureau documentation showing all outstanding regulatory fee debts have been paid or to show cause why the payments are not legally required or should be waived or deferred. The Media Bureau noted in the Order that failure to provide evidence of payment or to show cause within the time permitted could result in revocation of the station’s license.

License revocation normally requires the licensee first be given a hearing, but only if the licensee presents a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the fees are owed. In the case of a hearing, the licensee bears the burden to introduce evidence and provide proof. Where a hearing is conducted to collect regulatory fees, the FCC can require the licensee to pay for the costs of the hearing if the licensee does not ultimately prevail.

Television District Fails to Timely File Translator License Renewal Applications

A western state television district is facing a monetary fine of $16,500 for failing to timely file license renewal applications for eleven digital TV translator stations. The applications were due by June 1, 2022 but were not filed until mid-July of 2022. The licensee provided no explanation for the late filings. Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published the FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:

  • Repeated Failure to Pay Annual Regulatory Fees Puts Texas Station License in Jeopardy
  • FCC Proposes First-Ever PIRATE Act Fines, Including $2 Million-Plus Statutory Maximum
  • Failure to File License Renewal Applications Brings $13,500 Proposed Fine for Utah Television Translator Stations

Texas Radio Station at Risk of Losing License Over Unpaid Regulatory Fees

A Texas AM radio station’s license is at risk over the licensee’s failure to pay regulatory fees for nine years, dating back to Fiscal Year 2012.  The licensee owes more than $36,000 in fees before accounting for associated interest, late penalties, and administrative costs.

Under Section 9 of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 1.1151 of the FCC’s Rules, the FCC each year assesses regulatory fees on its regulatees to cover the costs of operating the agency.  The fees are typically due during the last two weeks of September so that the agency is fully funded at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year on October 1.  When payments are late or incomplete, the Communications Act and FCC Rules require a penalty assessment of 25% of the fee owed plus interest.

When regulatory fees or interest go unpaid, the FCC is authorized to revoke licenses and authorizations.  In this case, the FCC sent demand letters to the licensee and its counsel, but payments were still not made.  In an Order to Pay or Show Cause, the FCC gives the licensee 60 days to file with the Media Bureau documentation that all outstanding regulatory fee debts have been paid or to show cause why the payments are inapplicable or should be waived or deferred.  The Media Bureau notes that failure to provide evidence of payment or to show cause within the time specified may result in revocation of the station’s license.

Revocation normally requires a hearing, but only if the licensee presents a substantial and material question of fact as to whether the fees are owed.  If a hearing is designated on that basis, the FCC can require the licensee to pay for the costs of the hearing if the licensee does not prevail.

FCC Exercises Its PIRATE Act Monetary Penalty Authority for First Time

In a pair of Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), the FCC proposed fines of $2,316,034 and $80,000 against brothers in New York and an individual in Oregon, respectively, for unauthorized radio broadcasting.  The Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (known as the PIRATE Act) gave the FCC authority to take enforcement action against the pirates themselves and also against landlords and property owners who knowingly and willfully allow pirates to broadcast from their properties.  Illegal broadcast operations can interfere with licensed communications and pose a danger to the public by interfering with licensed stations that carry public safety messages, including Emergency Alert System transmissions.  These proposed fines are the first time the FCC has proposed fines using its PIRATE Act authority. Continue reading →

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April 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal applications due by April 3.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances,[1] (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.

Continue reading →

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Commercial and noncommercial TV broadcast stations licensed to  communities in Delaware and Pennsylvania must file their license renewal applications by April 3, 2023.

April 3, 2023 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
Delaware and Pennsylvania

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations.  TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation.  This includes becoming familiar with the requirements for the filing itself, as well as being aware of changes the FCC has made to the public notice procedures associated with the filing (discussed below).

The license renewal application (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S) primarily consists of a series of certifications in the form of Yes/No questions.  The FCC advises that applicants should only respond “Yes” when they are certain that the response is correct.  Thus, if an applicant is seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy, or is uncertain that it has fully complied with the rule or policy in question, it should respond “No” to that certification.  The application provides an opportunity for explanations and exhibits, so the FCC indicates that a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.” An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.

When answering questions in the license renewal application, the relevant reporting period is the licensee’s entire 8-year license term.  If the licensee most recently received a short-term license renewal, the application reporting period would cover only that abbreviated license term.  Similarly, if the license was assigned or transferred via FCC Form 314 or 315 during the license term, the relevant reporting period is just the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer.

Continue reading →

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • TV Network Draws Proposed Fine of $504,000 for Transmitting False EAS Tones
  • FCC Cites Equipment Supplier for Marketing Unauthorized Devices
  • FCC Proposes $62 Million Penalty Against Wireless Provider for Excessive Connected Devices Reimbursement Claims

FCC Proposes $504,000 Fine Against TV Network and Its O&O Station Group for EAS Rule Violations

The FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) to a TV network and its O&O station group, asserting violations of the Commission’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules.  Specifically, the FCC alleged violations of Section 11.45 of its rules, which prohibits the transmission of false or deceptive EAS tones.

The EAS is a nationwide public warning system designed to alert the public in case of emergencies, such as severe weather warnings or AMBER alerts.  In order to maintain the effectiveness of such alerts, EAS tones may only be aired in actual emergencies, authorized tests, and qualified public service announcements (PSAs).  Section 11.45 strictly prohibits airing the EAS tones, or simulations thereof, except in connection with one of these permitted uses.

The FCC received information from several sources alleging that during the television broadcast of a promotional segment in November 2021, the network transmitted EAS tones that were not connected to an emergency, authorized test, or qualified PSA.  In January 2022, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau sent a Letter of Inquiry seeking information regarding the potential violation and requesting, among other things, recordings of the promotional segment.  The network responded, admitting that it aired a three-second excerpt of the EAS Attention Signal, and admitting that it was not aired in connection with any permitted use.

The network also acknowledged that it broadcast the promotional segment over 18 owned-and-operated TV stations and transmitted it to 190 network-affiliated TV stations, as well as transmitted it on its sports radio network, which has a nationwide reach of nearly 15 million listeners.  Based on the network’s admissions and the FCC’s review of the segment, the Commission found that the network willfully violated Section 11.45(a) of the Commission’s Rules in its capacity as a broadcast TV programming network, as the licensee of multiple television stations, and by transmitting the segment via radio stations.  The FCC explained that although it was shorter than the full EAS Tones, the three-second clip used in the segment had the same dual-tone frequency, pitch, and timbre as the actual EAS Tones, and was recognizable by viewers or listeners as substantially similar to the EAS Tones.

Pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 503(b)(2)(A), which governs broadcast station licensees, the FCC is authorized to issue fines of up to $59,316 per violation, but the total amount for a single act may not exceed $593,170.  The FCC noted that while the base fine for violations of the EAS rule is $8,000, it looks at the particular facts of each case and may upwardly adjust that amount based on a number of specific factors, including the number of transmissions at issue, the network’s large nationwide audience reach, the gravity of the violation, the violator’s degree of culpability, ability to pay, and the serious public safety implications of the apparent violation.

Continue reading →

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The FCC announced this afternoon that due to continuing difficulties with its Licensing Management System (“LMS”) and Online Public Inspection File (“OPIF”) filing systems, the deadlines to file or upload a number of documents are being extended.  The new deadline for these documents will be February 28, 2023.

As we previously discussed, the FCC released a Public Notice on January 6, 2023 acknowledging that issues with its OPIF filing system were preventing broadcasters from uploading documents to their Public Files.  In response, the Commission announced an extension of all January 2023 Public File deadlines to January 31, 2023.  That prior announcement left in place the deadlines for: (a) Children’s Television Programming Reports (which are filed in LMS, not in the OPIF), (b) Annual EEO Public File Reports for stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Jersey and New York (normally due February 1), and (c) license renewal applications for television stations in New York and New Jersey (normally due February 1).  Today’s announcement not only further extends the deadline for January Public File uploads, but now includes these additional filings in the new extension.

As a result of today’s Public Notice, the deadlines that would normally fall on January 10 for stations to upload Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, on January 30 for television stations to upload Annual Children’s Television Commercial Limits documentation, and on February 1 for stations in the above states to upload Annual EEO Public File Reports to their Public Files are all extended until February 28, 2023.  In addition, the deadlines that would normally fall on January 30 for television stations to file their Annual Children’s Television Programming Reports and on February 1 for television stations in New York and New Jersey to file their license renewal applications in LMS are also extended until the new February 28, 2023 deadline.

Given the technical difficulties that have plagued the OPIF and LMS all month, along with the fact that many broadcasters will be trying to make two months’ worth of FCC filings in the last few days leading up to February 28, broadcasters are well advised to do all that they can to avoid being part of that last minute filing crush.  Of course, that will require the Commission’s filing systems to cooperate.  Stay tuned.

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Full power TV, Class A TV, LPTV, and TV Translator stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must file their license renewal applications by February 1, 2023.

February 1, 2023 is the license renewal application filing deadline for commercial and noncommercial TV broadcast stations licensed to communities in the following states:

Full Power TV, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations:
New Jersey and New York

Overview

The FCC’s state-by-state license renewal cycle began in June 2019 for radio stations and in June 2020 for television stations. TV stations licensed to communities in the respective states listed above should be moving forward with their license renewal preparation. This includes becoming familiar with the requirements for the filing itself, as well as being aware of changes the FCC has made to the public notice procedures associated with the filing (discussed below).

The license renewal application (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 303-S) primarily consists of a series of certifications in the form of Yes/No questions. The FCC advises that applicants should only respond “Yes” when they are certain that the response is correct. Thus, if an applicant is seeking a waiver of a particular rule or policy, or is uncertain that it has fully complied with the rule or policy in question, it should respond “No” to that certification. The application provides an opportunity for explanations and exhibits, so the FCC indicates that a “No” response to any of the questions “will not cause the immediate dismissal of the application provided that an appropriate exhibit is submitted.” An applicant should review any such exhibits or explanations with counsel prior to filing.

When answering questions in the license renewal application, the relevant reporting period is the licensee’s entire 8-year license term. If the licensee most recently received a short-term license renewal, the application reporting period would cover only that abbreviated license term. Similarly, if the license was assigned or transferred via FCC Form 314 or 315 during the license term, the relevant reporting period is just the time since consummation of that last assignment or transfer. Continue reading →

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The deadline to file the 2022 Annual Children’s Television Programming Report with the FCC is January 30, 2023, reflecting programming aired during the 2022 calendar year.  In addition, commercial stations’ documentation of their compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming during the 2022 calendar year must be placed in their Public Inspection File by January 30, 2023.

Overview

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 requires full power and Class A television stations to: (1) limit the amount of commercial matter aired during programs originally produced and broadcast for an audience of children 12 years of age and under, and (2) air programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under.  In addition, stations must comply with paperwork requirements related to these obligations.

In 2019, the FCC adopted a number of changes to its children’s television programming rules.  Substantively, the new rules provide broadcasters with additional flexibility in scheduling educational children’s television programming, and modified some aspects of the definition of “core” educational children’s television programming.  Those portions of the revisions went into effect in 2019.  Procedurally, the new rules eliminated quarterly filing of the commercial limits certifications and the Children’s Television Programming Report in favor of annual filings.  Those revisions went into effect in 2020. As a result, the Children’s Television Programming Report and commercial limits documentation filed in 2023 will be the third year that annual filings are submitted. Continue reading →

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February 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal applications due by February 1. 

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances,[1] (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group. Continue reading →