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AFTRA To Address FCC on Equal Opportunity

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has invited two leaders of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to speak next week at politically vital hearings on equal employment opportunity (EEO).

Greg Hessinger, AFTRA's national executive director, and Belva Davis, a broadcaster and AFTRA vice president from San Francisco, both plan to address the commission in Washington, D.C. The hearings involve proposed new FCC rules covering EEO for the broadcast and cable industries.

The invitation to AFTRA evidently comes following a letter Hessinger wrote FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. In the missive, Hessinger explained, "Because AFTRA represents those individuals who have had first-hand experience with the intentional and unintentional discrimination that exists with respect to hiring, promotion, and professional advancement in the broadcasting industry, we would like to address the need for meaningful and enforceable EEO rules."

According to AFTRA, the award-winning Davis was the first African-American female television broadcaster on the West Coast. An on-air presence at San Francisco's KRON-TV and KQED-TV, she is a longtime activist for access and equality in the broadcast industry.

The union had been active for years in seeking increased EEO efforts. The last couple of years have included dialogue with the major networks in forming an EEO plan. Then federal court rulings disallowing the FCC rules on equal employment stalled the effort, causing the need to regroup and respond to the FCC's new attempts at forming EEO regs.

The FCC, prepping for its first EEO hearings since 1973, has notified participants the hearing will cover proposed rules announced in December 2001. In addition to requiring broadcasters and cable entities to recruit for every full-time vacancy in a manner designed to achieve broad outreach, the proposed rules would require the implementation of two supplemental recruitment measures: (1) sending job vacancy announcements to recruitment organizations that request them; and (2) selecting from a menu of non-vacancy specific outreach approaches, such as job fairs, internship programs, and interaction with educational and community groups.

The new rules also would require the larger broadcast and cable entities to file annual EEO and employment reports.

AFTRA has said its leaders' testimonies will emphasize the need for strong and enforceable EEO rules that will withstand judicial scrutiny. The union has constantly preached that the persistent problem of discriminatory employment practices in broadcasting has actually increased via industry deregulation begun in 1994. The threat of discrimination is on the rise, the union argues, because deregulation has encouraged wide-scale ownership consolidation, which has in turn resulted in decreased programming and a decline in the number of available industry jobs.

AFTRA will also call on the FCC to hold public hearings on the existence and scope of age discrimination in the industry. This is a repeat request by the union, which has seen complaints of age discrimination against broadcast entities soar in recent years. "This practice of demoting and terminating older employees on account of age is clearly wrong and contrary to the public interest," Hessinger has said.

As a part of the union's efforts in communicating with the FCC on new standards, Ray Bradford, AFTRA's national director for equal employment opportunities, filed comments with the commission in April. Bradford's statement emphasized that the union has seen an increasing number of women and minorities displaced from their jobs, leaving far fewer of them in management and other positions of authority at stations and networks, and a decrease in programming serving local and minority communities.

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