The FCC has recently staked out a policy that the any use of EAS tones, or tones that sound like those alerts, outside of a real emergency, will lead to big fines.  Since the beginning of the year, the FCC has issued notices proposing fines totaling over $2.2 million against some of the biggest media companies in the country for such violations (see this decision proposing a $300,000 fine against Turner Broadcasting System Inc. for tones mimicking the EAS alerts that were included in a commercial transmitted nationwide in cable network programming, and this decision imposing cumulative fines of over $1.9 million on 3 cable network programmers for transmitting ads for the movie Olympus Has Fallen that included portions of the EAS alert tones).  Only days after the latter decision, a new warning about EAS tones or sound effects made to mimic those tones was sent out by the Southern California Broadcasters Association alerting broadcasters to a commercial for a charcoal briquettes company that seemingly contained such tones.  Given the strict liability that the FCC has been imposing for such commercials, watch for this recent ad and any other programming that might contain EAS tones or anything that sounds like them – and keep them off the air. 

With past warnings on this issue (see our article from November about another set of FCC fines for similar broadcasts,  and the release of an FCC press release warning media companies about the issue) and the recent large fines imposed on major media companies – both broadcast and cable – it is clear that all media companies need to be on the alert to monitor their broadcast material for the any content sounding like EAS alerts, and advertisers and program producers need to be aware that anything they produce that contains the alert tones is likely to cause problems at the FCC.  Note that these recent decisions imposed penalties on cable networks – so it is not just licensees who need to be vigilant.  In these decisions, the FCC has rejected any arguments that the media companies that transmitted the advertising containing the alert tones should be excused from liability as they did not themselves produce the ads.  So watch for these tones – even if they are packaged in someone else’s programming. 
Continue Reading Be on the Alert for EAS Tones in Non-Emergency Situations – Big FCC Fines for These Violations and Other EAS Issues

The FCC is cracking down hard on television stations and cable companies who use EAS alerts – or even simulations of such alerts – in advertising, promotions, and programming.  In two orders released this week, the FCC imposed big penalties on video companies who used fake EAS alerts in commercial messages.  In one case, it fined a cable programmer (Turner Broadcasting) $25,000 for the use of a simulated EAS tone (not using the actual tone, but just a set of tones that sounded like the EAS alert) in a promotion for the Conan O’Brien program.  In a consent decree with a TV broadcaster, in exchange for a $39,000 voluntary payment to the FCC and the adoption by the station of a series of policies to avoid similar problems in the future, the Commission agreed to dismiss a complaint against a station that had used simulated EAS tones in a commercial for a local store.  These decisions were coupled with two other announcements to make the point that the FCC wanted to demonstrate the importance that it places on EAS and its lack of tolerance for any non-emergency use of anything sounding like the EAS tones that could possibly confuse the public.

At the same time as the two decisions were released, the FCC issued a press release emphasizing the importance of EAS and how such actions trivialized the alert system.  A Fact Sheet was also released, making four documents all emphasizing the importance of EAS, and the threat posed to real warnings by any sort of use of sounds that could be confused for the EAS alerts.  Where does the FCC get its authority to impose such fines?
Continue Reading Penalties of $39,000 and $25,000 Assessed For Video Programming Containing Fake EAS Messages