Misuse of the codes associated with the nation’s emergency alert system can lead to hefty fines — just ask Meruelo Radio Holdings, ABC, AMC and Discovery, who agreed to a series of civil consent decrees ranging from $67,000 to $395,000.
Last week the commission announced it had reached significant financial settlements with a radio group owner, TV broadcaster and a cable TV network for using actual or simulated EAS tones during a broadcast. FCC rules prohibit broadcasting of EAS tones except during an actual emergency, test or public service announcements, and this includes simulations of those tones.
Programs that aired an EAS code without authority included ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and Discovery’s “Lone Star Law,” as well as promos aired by Meruelo Radio Holdings’ Los Angeles-area KDAY(FM) and KDEY(FM)’s morning radio show.
As part of the agreements, the media companies agreed to pay more than $600,000 in civil penalties and agreed to follow a compliance plan that would help to ensure such actions do not recur.
“The use of actual or simulated EAS tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements is a serious public safety concern,” the FCC said in its announcement. “These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion when the tones are used, [avoid] alert fatigue among listeners and [avoid] false activation of the EAS by the operative data elements contained in the alert tones.”
As part of its investigation, the FCC Enforcement Bureau found the following programs had violated its rules.
- In the fall of 2017, Meruelo’s KDAY and KDEY included a simulation of an EAS attention signal in a promotion for its morning show. The promotion was broadcast 106 times on KDAY and 33 times on KDEY’s simulcast of KDAY. The company admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $67,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
- During a Oct. 3, 2018, episode of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” ABC broadcast an episode that used a simulated WEA tone three times during a comedic sketch. ABC transmitted the episode nationwide to 250 TV stations, including eight of its owned and operated stations, which in turn broadcast the episode in their markets. ABC admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $395,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
- In February 2019, AMC Networks twice included EAS tones in the “Omega Episode” of its television program “The Walking Dead.” This was transmitted on eight separate instances across cable and satellite systems nationwide. AMC admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $104,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
- In early 2018, Discovery’s Animal Planet network broadcast an episode of “Lone Star Law” titled “Thousand Year Flood” that included an actual WEA signal. The crew was filming Texas Game Wardens following Hurricane Harvey and caught the tone of a real wireless alert received by phones during filming. Discovery transmitted the episode eight times to cable and satellite systems nationwide from January to March 2018. Discovery admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $68,000 civil penalty and committed to a compliance plan.
The Enforcement Bureau also released an Enforcement Advisory that reiterates the current law as it applies to EAS tones.