The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau today handed out fines to three TV shows and a radio company for “misusing” the Emergency Alert System or Wireless Emergency Alert tones.
ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! and AMC’s The Walking Dead were hit with six-figure penalties, while Animal Planet’s Lone Star Law and the parent company of two Los Angeles radio stations drew less hefty fines. All four also committed to what the feds called “a strict compliance plan to ensure such actions do not recur.”
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FCC rules prohibit the use of actual or simulated EAS tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements. “These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion when the tones are used, alert fatigue among listeners, and false activation of the EAS by the operative data elements contained in the alert tones,” the regulator said.
Kimmel was hit with a $395,000 fine for used a simulated WEA tone three times during a sketch last year. Walking Dead got $104,000 for using the EAS tone twice in February’s “Omega” episode, and Lone Star Law was fined $68,000 for last year’s airing of an actual WEA signal that was caught on crew members’ phones as they were filming. KDAY and KDEY-FM parent Meruelo Radio Holdings was fined $67,000 for simulating an EAS attention signal in a promotion for its morning show.
The FCC’s full explanation of the alert-misuse fines is below.
The FCC said today: “We remain concerned about the misuse of the EAS codes and EAS and WEA Attention Signals, or simulations thereof, to capture audience attention during advertisements; dramatic, entertainment, and educational programs, and at any other time that there is no genuine alert, authorized test, or authorized PSA about the EAS or WEA that is accompanied by an appropriate disclaimer. The FCC may issue sanctions for such violations, including, but not limited to, monetary forfeitures.”
Here is the FCC’s explanation for the fines it imposed today:
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
On October 3, 2018, ABC broadcast an episode of the late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live! which 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.
The Walking Dead
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.
Lone Star Law
Discovery’s Animal Planet network broadcast an episode of Lone Star Law entitled “Thousand Year Flood,” which 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.
Meruelo Radio Holdings
In the fall of 2017, Meruelo’s KDAY and KDEY-FM 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-FM’s simulcast of KDAY. The company admitted to the violation, agreed to pay a $67,000 civil penalty, and committed to a compliance plan.