Over the years, the FCC has warned broadcasters not to air the real EAS tones for any reason other than airing a real alert or a test to avoid panicking the public. The EAS tones contain digital information that is relayed to other media, whose EAS encoders/decoders then read the data and automatically transmit the alert farther down the daisy chain.
Now, the commission emphasizes the prohibition against misairing the EAS tones with an Enforcement Advisory and a proposed $25,000 fine against Turner Broadcasting System and a $39,000 consent decree against a Kentucky TV station.
Enforcement Bureau Chief Bob Ratcliffe says the action sends a strong message that the commission won’t tolerate misuse or abuse of the EAS. “It is inexcusable to trivialize the sounds specifically used to notify viewers of the dangers of an oncoming tornado or to alert them to be on the lookout for a kidnapped child, merely to advertise a talk show or a clothing store. This activity not only undermines the very purpose of a unique set of emergency alert signals, but is a clear violation of the law.”
Though the agency has prohibited transmission of real or simulated EAS tones outside of when there’s a real alert or a test for two decades, it says there’s been a recent spike in consumer complaints about the misuse of the alert tones.
The bureau investigated Turner after receiving a complaint about the Conan O’Brien Show on the cable network. TBS provided a recording of the promo and additional viewer complaints. The FCC reviewed the recording and determined that the promo included a simulation of the EAS codes and attention signal, so the agency proposed a $25,000 fine.
Responding to a consumer complaint, the FCC also investigated an ad aired by WNKY(DT), Bowling Green, Ky. The station didn’t dispute that the ad for The Fan Wear & More Store included a simulated EAS tone, and worked with the agency to negotiate the consent decree. Under the deal, the station will make a $39,000 voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury, admits no guilt and has initiated a public education campaign to inform viewers about EAS.
Other EAS investigations remain ongoing, and the Enforcement Bureau says it will take further enforcement action if warranted.