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FCC Proposes a $20K Fine for ESPN

The Enforcement Bureau said ESPN broke FCC rules by transmitting an emergency alert tone during a program

ESPN, EAS alert tones, FCC, Federa; Communications CommissionThe FCC Enforcement Bureau has issued a $20,000 fine against ESPN for “willfully violating the commission’s rules that prohibit the transmission of false or deceptive emergency alert system” tones during a program.

The FCC said the violation occurred during the airing of the program “30 for 30: Roll Tide/War Eagle” on Oct. 20, 2020. After receiving a complaint about the broadcast of the tones on Oct. 27, 2020, the FCC started an investigation and notified ESPN.

In a March 21 response, ESPN admitted that the tones had been broadcast but said they were part of the depiction of April 27, 2011 tornadoes “for storytelling purposes” during the documentary.

[Read: Entercom Faces Penalty for Misuse of EAS Tones in 2018]

ESPN also admitted that the transmission was not part of any actual emergency or EAS test.

The network argued, however, that the broadcast EAS tones could “not have triggered any automated relay equipment” because the portion transmitted “did not include audio frequency-shift (AFSK) tones” and that the tones appeared very briefly in the program for only 1.83 seconds.

The FCC rejected those arguments and proposed a higher fine than the $8,000 base forfeiture for section 11.45 of the commission’s rules covering violations of emergency alerts.

“The nature of EAS violations requires particularly serious consideration because, among other issues, such violations undermine the integrity of the EAS by desensitizing viewers to the potential importance of warning tones and therefore implicate substantial public safety concerns,” the FCC concluded. It also noted that ESPN had been fined in the past for violating these rules.

“Although only a single transmission was involved, given the totality of the circumstances, and consistent with the Forfeiture Policy Statement, we conclude that an $8,000 base forfeiture plus an upward adjustment in the amount of $12,000 is warranted,” the FCC concluded.