A group of 82 broadcasters, mostly small operators, have locked arms and presented the Federal Communications Commission with a series of three steps they believe would improve compliance and enforcement of the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules. The group says “burdensome paperwork and nonproductive actions” required of small broadcasters have been a source of complaints for nearly the five decades the EEO rules have been in place – even as owners have embraced the FCC’s diversity aims. Now in what they say is a move to bring more “pragmatism and equity” to the process, the group is suggesting the FCC adopt a trio of updates to improve how EEO rules are enforced. They include:

Require wide outreach for every fulltime broadcast station job, no matter how few employees the company has.

The current rules say a station with fewer than five fulltime employees is exempt from dictates about how a job opening is disseminated. But the coalition of radio owners calls that an “anachronism” that’s out of step with the ease of spreading the news about a job vacancy in the internet age. “More specifically, it hides from job seekers, particularly entry-level job seekers, vacancy information from the smallest of small broadcast stations that may very well serve as the first step to a career in broadcasting,” the group argues.

Examine a broadcast company as an entire entity, not on a station or cluster basis.

Since the FCC eliminated its main studio rule, the group argues local market-based employment units for EEO metrics is another anachronism as broadcast station employees may not be physically located in the city where the station operates. Instead, the coalition of small operators says looking at the bigger companywide picture will give the FCC a better read on what’s really happening.

The group says it will also prevent some big companies from trying to get around submitting reports by assigning fewer than five employees to the local unit as a way to avoid the “crushing” EEO paperwork. “Most importantly, the FCC and public will receive similar information to that which they now receive, provided by broadcasters who actually have the resources to accumulate and compile the required detailed information, rather than burdening and hampering the normal broadcast station operations of smaller broadcasting entities,” the group says.

Reset the FCC’s small station exemption for EEO rules to reflect the number of employees that work at a company, not a specific station it owns.

Small broadcasters say five fulltime employees is an “unrealistically low number” for the imposition of “extensive and burdensome” governmental documentation and paperwork. They propose the FCC instead only focus on broadcast companies with 50 employees or more overall. The filing notes that is the same threshold used by the government when deciding how many fulltime employees a company must have before it’s required to offer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

At first blush it may seem to some that small radio owners are looking to wriggle out of EEO requirements. But they insist nothing could further from the truth. Instead, they say their proposals will allow the FCC to do more to achieve its goal of making radio and television workplaces better reflect America’s diversity. And it’s important that all broadcasters are behind the EEO program in both “process and spirit” which isn’t the case today.

“There is nothing more sapping to a small broadcaster than EEO paperwork and documentation that it is not staffed to handle, knowing that its larger competition has an HR department handling such record-keeping,” the group tells the FCC. “When such documentation and recordkeeping is imposed upon a small broadcaster, it is a crippling resource burden that simply takes away from the important task of broadcasting.”

In an email, attorney John Garziglia, who worked with the broadcasters, said it’s their hope the proposal is at least a “starting point” for a frank discussion for what works and doesn’t work in attracting a diversity of employees to broadcasting.

The Commission last month launched a rulemaking proceeding (MB Docket No. 19-177) that will examine whether the EEO rules are in need of revision. As Inside Radio reported, much of the focus of the latest review is on the agency’s track record for enforcing its rules and asks whether the FCC should make improvements to the compliance and policing process.

The deadline for filing comments in the proceeding will be set in the coming weeks once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.