Dem lawmakers urge FCC to scrutinize broadcast workforce diversity

Dem lawmakers urge FCC to scrutinize broadcast workforce diversity
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' Bass, Van Hollen to reintroduce bill to reform handling of nonviolent 911 calls Democrats to introduce bill to prevent default recurring political donations MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeSchool districts struggle to defend against rising ransomware attacks Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge Facebook to abandon 'Instagram for kids' plan | 'Homework gap' likely to persist after pandemic Legislation to secure critical systems against cyberattacks moves forward in the House MORE (D-N.Y.) are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to officially begin collecting data on the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the broadcast workforce, saying that information could "empower" the commission to improve its oversight of the broadcast industry. 

Van Hollen and Clarke are raising concerns about the FCC's failure to collect data on broadcast workforce diversity over the past 15 years, according to a letter obtained by The Hill. 


"Discrimination has no place in our society, including at broadcast stations subject to FCC jurisdiction," the Democratic lawmakers wrote. "However, the FCC’s ability to evaluate such discrimination is limited if the Commission does not have access to the information it needs to identify potential [equal employment opportunity] shortcomings."

The FCC's Democratic commissioners have been raising concerns about the issue for months, arguing that the FCC should reinstate the form that requires broadcasters to report the racial, ethnic and gender breakdown of their offices. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel at a recent meeting accused the FCC of allowing "the broader effort to address discriminatory practices related to media ownership" to fall by the wayside. 

“It’s been nearly 20 years since the FCC collected broadcast workforce diversity data," Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement to The Hill. "That means for 20 years, the Commission has been openly ignoring a clear statutory mandate to do so."

"I presented the Chairman with an easy solution, conclude an open rulemaking that we last considered in 2004 and restart the data collection," Starks said. "Inexplicably, my proposal was rejected. I will keep championing this issue until we respect the will of Congress and come into compliance with the law.”

The commission has been considering reinstating the form — known as Form 395-B — since 2004, but it has not yet made a final decision. 

"For 15 years, Form 395-B has languished in bureaucratic limbo, with no clear path toward reinstatement," Van Hollen and Clarke wrote.

The lawmakers in the letter argued that the collection of broadcast workforce diversity information through the form has been mandated by Congress since the 1990s. 

"When Congress codified Form 395-B collection, our hope was that this data could empower the FCC to better evaluate its [equal employment opportunity] rules, while also providing policymakers and researchers with valuable insights regarding diversity in broadcasting," they wrote. "Over time, the importance of these objectives has only increased." 

People within the broadcast industry have raised concerns over potential discrimination and an underrepresentation of minorities for years.

"Yet, we still lack the comprehensive dataset which would enable us to effectively analyze these problems and pursue solutions," the lawmakers wrote.

The FCC is currently considering reinstating the form. Van Hollen and Clarke requested a "detailed summary of your reasoning, as well as an explanation regarding why you chose to not refresh the record" if the commission decides against reinstating the diversity data collection.

Updated: 5:11 p.m.