Affirmative Action in the Broadcasting Industry

"We do not assume that minority and female employment will always result in minority and female-oriented programming. Nor do we believe that all minorities or all women share the same viewpoints. Nonetheless, we believe that, as more minorities and women are employed in the broadcast industry, it is more likely that varying perspectives will be aired and that programming will be oriented to serve more diverse interests and needs." 

- FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making, November 20, 1998


In a serious blow to equal opportunity efforts, the FCC's affirmative action requirements related to outreach and employee recruitment by broadcasters was struck down by the courts in 1998 in the case Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod v. FCC. In addition, the D.C. Court of Appeals found that making stations compare their employees' racial and ethnic profiles with the community's relevant work pool profile creates pressure for employers "to hire with an eye toward meeting the numerical target" and thus results in individuals being granted a preference because of their race. The court said this violates the "equal protection" clause of the Fifth Amendment because race discrimination is subject to "strict scrutiny." Because sex discrimination is not entitled to strict scrutiny, the court did not strike down the affirmative action policies as they relate to women.

The FCC is now rewriting its affirmative action requirements using the Lutheran Church decision. NOW Foundation and other pro-affirmative action organizations have submitted comments to the FCC regarding their proposed rulemaking. These comments are available at the NOW Foundation web site. The main points in the NOW Foundation comments are:

  • the Lutheran Church case did not strike gender-based affirmative action; therefore the FCC should not alter its rules regarding outreach to women.
  • the FCC should outline specific recruiting and outreach efforts for broadcasters and then ensure enforcement of the rules through careful monitoring.
  • the FCC should continue random audits and the collection of data as a means of monitoring progress.
  • the FCC should reject "streamlining" that would allow a significant number of broadcasters to operate without any obligation to recruit in an open and equal manner.
  • the FCC should continue to monitor the outcome of any discrimination complaints filed against broadcasters.


Opponents of affirmative action are pressuring the FCC to eliminate all affirmative action outreach and recruitment directives. The FCC will likely issue new affirmative action rules, and our opponents will likely challenge them in court. Appointment of FCC Commissioners is by the President, however confirmation and the budget of the FCC is controlled by Congress. In the long term, supporters of affirmative action must put policymakers in each branch of government who support affirmative action.

     In 1971, women made up 23.3% and people of color 9% of full-time broadcast employees. By 1997, women were 41% and minorities 20%.

Of all television and radio journalists, 18% are racial and ethnic minorities, and 36.2% are female. 

Only 24.1% of TV news directors are women.

People of color are 60% more likely to be turned down for loans than similar white applicants.

Racial and ethnic minority groups make up 15.7% of prime-time drama casts and 25.4% of the population.

By 2050, the U.S. population will be 47% people of color. At the current pace, minority representation would be only 26% in TV news.