Black and Latino civil rights groups are expected to ask the government today to revoke the operating licenses of 31 California radio stations that allegedly have not met federally mandated minority employment obligations.
The license revocation petitions being submitted to the Federal Communications Commission by the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition and the NAACP, come as part of the most sweeping challenge of the broadcast industry in 20 years. More than 200 petitions have been filed since 1988--when the current period of license renewals began--by those two organizations and by the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Black Media Coalition.
Although the civil rights groups said they would not identify the offending stations until papers were filed, they alleged that the challenged stations either discriminated against minorities and women or failed to make strong efforts to recruit them for broadcasting jobs as required by law.
"One station in Los Angeles County had no Hispanic employees at all," said Esther Renteria, chairwoman of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "Others are doing really dumb things like advertising in English in La Opinion (the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper.) How can they expect to find Hispanics like that?"
Although the Hispanic Coalition challenged 12 stations and the NAACP 19 more, officials say the number of California radio stations not complying with FCC rules was lower than expected. The improvement, they noted, surfaced in the wake of the large number of successful complaints previously filed against stations in states such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.
"Some stations have started to clean up their acts," said David Honig, a Miami lawyer who represents the NAACP in many cases before the FCC.
Radio industry representatives could not be reached late Wednesday. But in response to previous filings from the NAACP and the Hispanic Coalition, industry lawyers said that stations have made efforts to find minorities and women and that complaints often come from disgruntled employees seeking to subject stations to FCC scrutiny.
The outlets challenged to date make up only about 2% of the nation's 11,000 radio stations. Nevertheless, the large number of complaints in this license renewal cycle, which ends Dec. 31, had prompted the FCC to launch one of the most widespread reviews of broadcast hiring practices in 20 years.
For the first time in its 56-year history, the FCC in the past two years has been fining broadcasters. Forty-five outlets have been fined up to $20,000 for failing to meet agency rules that require stations to demonstrate that they have made efforts to recruit minorities and women, an FCC official said.
"For the most part, the representation of minorities (at stations) is low compared to minorities in the available work force," said Glenn A. Wolfe, head of the FCC's equal employment opportunity branch. "That's why there has been more than usual activity" against broadcast licensees.
The FCC, which oversees broadcasters, telephone companies and others in the communications field, is the only U.S. agency that requires industries under its jurisdiction to practice affirmative action. The agency reported that in 1989, nearly 16% of all professionals working at broadcast stations were minority group members and about 32% were women, compared to 8% and 10.2%, respectively in 1971.
Government and civil rights group representatives say employment discrimination in broadcasting is not as widespread as it was before 1972, when Benjamin L. Hooks was appointed the nation's first black FCC commissioner. Hooks is currently executive director of the NAACP.
But government and civil rights officials agree that some stations still aren't meeting their legal requirement to make strong efforts to recruit women and minorities. What's more, they said, blacks and Latinos are sometimes denied opportunities to work on stations that switch to nonethnic formats such as rock, classical music or talk radio.
"We are only filing complaints against the worst of the worst (stations) simply because we don't have enough resources to file more," said the Hispanic Media Coalition's Renteria.