The FCC is putting its foot down in response to what it says is an increase in the use of false emergency alert system tones used on air.
Yesterday, the commission announced it took action against both Turner Broadcasting and Bowling Green, KY, NBC and CBS duopoly WNKY “for apparent misuse of the actual Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones or close simulations of those sounds.” It also issued an Enforcement Advisory to stop the use of EAS alerts to grab attention in commercials or shows when there is no emergency.
“Today’s enforcement action sends a strong message: the FCC will not tolerate misuse or abuse of the Emergency Alert System,” said Enforcement Bureau acting chief Robert H. Ratcliffe. “It is inexcusable to trivialize the sounds specifically used to notify viewers of the dangers of an incoming 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 o f a unique set of emergency alert signals, but is a clear violation of the law.”
In its move against WNKY, the FCC said it responded to a consumer complaint about the use of an EAS Attention Signal in a commercial for “The Fan Wear & More Store.” As a result of the complaint, MMK, the licensee of WNKY agreed to pay a $39,000 “voluntary contribution and to implement a robust compliance plan that will help prevent future violations of the Commission’s EAS rules.”
The FCC’s action against Turner involved a promo for the “Conan O’Brien Show.” Turner has been asked to pay $25,000.
According to the CommLawCenter, while having to pay $39,000 WKNY also has to put some time in for its transgression:
Section 11.45 compliance program for its staff, creating and distributing a compliance manual to its staff, implementing a compliance training program, filing annual compliance reports for the next three years, reporting any future violations to the FCC, and developing and implementing a program to “educate members of the public about the EAS alerts, the limits of public warning capabilities, and appropriate responses to emergency warning messages.” With regard to this last requirement, the educational program must include:
- Airing 160 public service announcements (80 on the station’s primary channel and 80 on its multicast channel).
- Interviewing local emergency preparedness officials and including vignettes on emergency awareness topics at least twice a month on the station’s morning program.
- Expanding the station’s website to include links to local emergency agencies, banner messages with emergency-related information, and video messages from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency preparedness agencies.
- Installing an additional SkyCam at its tower site and using “special radio equipment” to communicate with local emergency management officials and which will relay alerts to the station’s master control personnel.
- Leasing tower space to the local emergency management agency for a “new modernized communications system” linking local agencies and organizations.
- Using social media and digital technologies to promptly disseminate emergency alerts, including posting information culled from the station’s public service announcements, vignettes, and the local emergency management agency on the station’s Facebook page weekly, and including timely late-breaking news coverage of severe weather conditions and forecasts on the station’s smartphone app.
- Utilizing specific computer hardware and software to render weather data and maps for use on-air, online, and in mobile applications, as well as to track severe weather events.
- Periodically reviewing and revising the station’s educational program to improve it and ensure it is current and complete, including conferring with the National Weather Service and state, county and federal emergency preparedness managers and public safety officials.