The FCC yesterday announced a consent decree with TEGNA, the licensee of a television station in Jacksonville, Florida, which used simulated EAS tones in a promotional announcement for the Jacksonville Jaguars football team. According to the consent decree, the station ran the announcement only 4 times. It was apparently produced by the team and inserted

The FCC seems to be making another statement – releasing one decision upholding two very large fines against major cable programmers for improper use of EAS tones in ads for a movie, while just two days later releasing another decision approving a consent decree with a broadcaster imposing a penalty and monitoring conditions for using those tones in a radio show.  The first decision was by the full Commission.  It upheld a preliminary decision by its staff that we wrote about here, imposing fines of $1,120,000 against Viacom and $280,000 against ESPN.  The new case was against a Univision radio station in New York – agreeing in a consent decree to a $20,000 penalty.

The new case arose at a Spanish language station, where DJs in a comedy sketch on a morning radio show played the EAS tones repeatedly while joking about men who gain weight, and once even joking that playing the tone was illegal.  The FCC was alerted to the use of the tones by a radio listener who apparently was scanning the radio band, heard the tones and tried to determine what the emergency was – eventually figuring out that the alerts were not really part of an emergency at all.  The $20,000 penalty was combined with the FCC’s imposition of a requirement that the station prepare a compliance manual for its employees about the EAS system, conduct training programs, and report to the FCC about its compliance with the plan and the EAS rules for the next three years – including any EAS noncompliance at any of its stations.
Continue Reading More Big Penalties for Use of EAS Tones in Non-Emergency Programming

Perhaps Sunday’s anniversary of Pearl Harbor made the FCC want to make this week one which concentrated on emergency communications issues, or perhaps it is just a coincidence.  But the FCC has been active in the past 7 days dealing with emergency communications related items for broadcasters.  On Wednesday, it issued a consent decree by which a broadcaster agreed to a $46,000 fine for the use of EAS tones in a commercial message. This decision follows on the heels of an investigatory letter sent to a satellite radio programmer about the apparent use of a simulated EAS tone in a commercial message when, of course, there was no real emergency.   On Monday, there were two fines for non-operational EAS receivers and EAS recordkeeping failures.  At the end of last week, comments were filed in an FCC proceeding looking at the retransmission of EAS alerts in non-emergency situations, such as when a tone is included in programming on a station, and what can be done to avoid those alerts being sent throughout the system.  Comments are also due by the end of the month on suggested best practices on security for the EAS system, in light of the many issues that have arisen with the hacking of EAS receivers.  Here is a quick look at each of these issues.

The two most recent decisions highlight the severity with which the FCC is treating the use of EAS tones – real or simulated – in non-emergency programming.  We have written about past cases where the FCC has issued very substantial fines for the use of such tones in nonemergency situations, here and here.  In the decision released on Wednesday, the licensee of a Michigan radio station admitted to having broadcast ads for a storm-chasing tour which contained the EAS warning tones.  The National Weather Service received complaints, and in turn filed a complaint with the FCC.  The Consent Decree does not provide much more information, but to indicate that the commercial containing the EAS tones was broadcast on only a single day.  A $46,000 fine for a one-day violation demonstrates the gravity with which the FCC views these violations.  And it is a sense of importance that attaches not just to licensees, but to programmers as well.
Continue Reading A Week of Emergency Alert System Actions at the FCC – Fines Including One for $46,000 for EAS Tones in a Commercial, and Reviews of Best Practices for the System

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

In the last few weeks, the FCC has fined a number of broadcast stations for failing to keep up with their EAS obligations. In one case, a low power FM operator was fined $1750 for not having any EAS receiver installed at its station – and not knowing that it was required. LPFM stations must