As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Today, a vote by the Federal Communications Commission took one step closer to facing the reality that employment diversity in media, specifically the broadcast media, needs change and improvement.

After 20 years of delay and avoidance, the FCC voted to comply with the law, and collect equal employment data from broadcasters. In response, Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC Media Justice’s policy advisor said, “this is a tremendous achievement and a practical, common sense solution. The FCC voted to collect and release data as required by law, not impose any additional rule or obligations. Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

UCC Media Justice has a special connection to this question. In 1967, Dr. Everett Parker, our founder, petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to adopt proactive equal employment opportunity (EEO) rules.

The following year, after a significant public outcry and the 1968 Kerner Commission report highlighting the negative impact of media coverage which ignored people of color, the Commission adopted those rules. They stood at the forefront of a series of FCC and EEOC efforts which revolutionized EEO obligations and practices throughout the media and telecommunications industry. In 1992, Congress adopted the obligation of the FCC to collect this data into law.

The FCC paused its EEO rules, including data collection in 2002 and 2003 after two problematic court decisions. At the time, the Bush FCC affirmed in 2004 that collection of statistical data had no constitutional implications and were not barred by those court decisions. The FCC held a hearing where Everett Parker appeared via video tape. Dr. Parker explained the overwhelming positive impact of the EEO rules. He urged the Commission to move ahead, saying, “I know I won’t be around to see you finish the job, but I urge you never to give up trying.” Dr. Parker died at 102 years old in 2015. Some of the FCC’s EEO rules were on the books in 2015, but not this one. Although the Commission had only one final loose end to wrap up to collect and publish EEO statistics, the effort to collect and publicize this data went into deep freeze.

In a hearing before the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 Dr. Parker explained the overwhelming positive impact of EEO rules over the years, and urged the Commission to move to readopt the lapsed rules, saying, “I know I won’t be around to see you finish the job, but I urge you never to give up trying.” Dr. Parker died at 102 years old in 2015. Some of the FCC’s EEO rules were on the books in 2015, but not this one.

And then, in 2018, the Trump Administration tried to pat itself on the back for repealing an unneeded form, without acknowledging that the FCC had been derelict in its duty to collect EEO data for years. We joined together with leading civil rights organizations and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to press the Federal Communications Commission to better.

After new leadership took over, and finally started pressing toward new rules, in 2022 UCC Media Justice took the lead in drafting a 27-page supplemental FCC filing showing the significant need and support for publicly accessible employment data.

Public data will help the public know whether fair employment policies are working

As UCC Media Justice and its civil rights allies explained in its filing, collecting and publishing EEO data is not a radical request. Collection of “race and ethnic data and reports perform a core governmental function.” As the Leadership Conference explained to the Commission, “No court has seriously questioned the constitutionality of demographic employment data collection.” Without data it is impossible to know what rules and policies are working and what are not; it is impossible to set enforcement strategies and objectives. Transparency is a useful, least-intrusive means to evoke change. Collection and monitoring of employment data is a best practice and widely sought by shareholders and experts as a means to achieve diversity and equity goals.

Many companies voluntarily release their employment statistics, including some broadcasters. Alphabet, Amazon, American Tower, AT&T, Comcast, Disney, eBay, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, and Verizon all voluntarily publicly release their EEO-1 data. At the same time, many more companies do not. A study by Just Capital found that 68 percent of the companies in the Russell 1000 Index (which represents the top 1000 companies by market capitalization in the United States) do not publicly release employment data. DiversIQ, a leading private provider of DEI data and tracking, reported that “In 2019, only 13 S&P 100 companies and 24 S&P 500 companies publicly released their full EEO-1 data. As of today, those figures have climbed to 93 S&P 100 companies (another 1 committed to disclose this year) and 319 S&P 500 companies (19 committed to future disclosure).”

We need the FCC to act because the data is not available otherwise. Industry surveys that historically attempted to track employment in news and media through voluntary surveys have reported dismal response rates. For example, in 2021, Congress was forced to resort to a GAO study to obtain more information about the participation of Hispanics in the media industry. Over the years, many investor groups have been pushing for public release of workforce diversity data for years. We were so glad they supported our efforts at the FCC.

Strong support from Commissioner Starks and 27 members of Congress

Late last year, we found some serious momentum on this fight when FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks really pulled out the stops. Commissioner Starks worked with 27 members of Congress who support the FCC’s action.

Why is this important?

The United Church of Christ has long worked for economic and racial equality. The fair and full representation of all people in our media will help to ensure that our media fully represents our communities. This is important because most of us rely upon the media to learn about the world, our political views, and our neighbor’s needs.

But we can’t rest: If the past is any indication, we anticipate another lawsuit challenging EEO data collection — and with DEI under attack everywhere, we must be prepared for anything. UCC Media Justice will work tirelessly to protect and defend EEO data reporting rules for broadcasting.

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