As life slowly returns to something approaching normal after the last two years, radio stations may be inclined to go big on some April Fool’s Day stunt. But remember that not everyone may be in on the joke and a prank that may seem funny to some could trigger concerns with others. As we do every year about this time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other on-air bits prepared especially for the day. While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes. Issues under this rule can arise at any time, but a broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.
The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) substantial public harm is in fact caused. Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.” If you air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, you should expect to be fined by the FCC.
Continue Reading April Fool’s Day and the FCC’s Hoax Rule – Be Careful Out There