The Federal Communications Commission upheld a $1.12 million fine against Viacom and a $280,000 penalty against ESPN for airing a movie trailer that contained real EAS tones.
The commission prohibits the use of real EAS tones other than in a test or an emergency so that the public doesn’t become desensitized to hearing the warnings.
The cable networks transmitted EAS warning tones for several days in 2013 to promote the movie “Olympus Has Fallen,” which portrayed a terrorist attack on Washington.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau investigated reports of misuse of the EAS tones and said the cable networks admitted the commercial contained actual EAS tones and it appeared multiple times on the networks.
Last March, the bureau proposed a total fine of $1,930,000 against NBCUniversal, ESPN and Viacom. NBCUniversal paid its $530,000 fine, but ESPN and Viacom objected and requested reductions. ESPN and Viacom said they didn’t produce the promo, but rather were merely retransmitting it; the commission refuted those arguments and upheld fines for both.
“The public relies on this system to prepare them for real emergencies,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Travis LeBlanc. “Our action here sends a strong signal that use of the EAS tones for nonemergency purposes presents a danger to public safety which we will not tolerate.”
The fines differ based on several factors including the number of channels involved and the number of transmissions on each channel; they must be paid in 30 days.