One of the nation’s largest owners of broadcast TV stations has entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC that resolves an investigation into the improper insertion of Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones in a commercial that aired on a NBC affiliate in Florida’s First Coast.
The settlement is a costly one for TEGNA, the company known as Gannett prior to the spin-off of its newspaper arm.
And, it’s a bit of a black mark for WTLV-12 in Jacksonville … and less so for the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
The settlement, which absolves TEGNA and WTLV of any wrongdoing and is not a forfeiture stemming from a Notice of Apparent Liability, will see TEGNA pay a $55,000 fine, admit to misuse of EAS tones, and implement a compliance and reporting plan to avoid such instances in the future.
The hefty paycheck to the U.S. Treasury — a civil penalty — must be paid within 30 calendar days of May 30.
The problems began for TEGNA and WTLV on Aug. 9, 2016, when the Commission received a complaint alleging that the NBC station had “aired a commercial multiple times that improperly used the EAS data burst and tone.”
The spot was for the Jaguars. According to TEGNA subsidiary Multimedia, the licensee of WTLV, the station received the spot from the team, and station staff subsequently inserted the advertisement into WTLV’s master control system.
This allowed the advertisement to air four times over three days, from August 6-8, 2016.
Could the Jaguars be at fault? No.
It is ultimately the responsibility of a TV station to screen all advertisements before they reach viewers, and TEGNA has “routine operating policies and practices” that prohibit the improper transmission of EAS tones.
Unfortunately, WTLV staffers “apparently failed to screen” the ad before it was inserted into the master control system.
That’s a big problem. As the FCC states, “Unauthorized use of EAS tones undermine the system’s effectiveness by desensitizing the public to the tones’ association with life-saving information and public safety announcements.”
In this case, the Jaguars ad contained what some may consider egregious violations of EAS rules.
Upon investigation from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, the Commission found that the advertisement opened with EAS tones accompanied by the sounds of howling winds and thunder claps.
Between the EAS tones and the sounds of a storm, a voiceover stated the following:
This is an emergency broadcast transmission. This is not a test. This is an emergency broadcast transmission. This is not a test. Please remain calm. Seek shelter.
The promotion closes with simulated EAS tones playing in the background.
After seeing an Aug. 8 broadcast of the advertisement at approximately 10:36pm, a WTLV senior staff member halted further airings and contacted WTLV President/GM Rob Mennie to advise him that the ad “may have contained an improper use of EAS tones.”
It is now TEGNA’s duty to designate a senior corporate manager to serve for 18 months as a Compliance Officer; it has 30 days to do so.
The Consent Decree also requires TEGNA to develop and implement a company-wide Compliance Plan “designed to ensure future compliance with the EAS Laws” within the next 60 days.
Todd Mayman, EVP/Chief Legal and Administrative Officer at TEGNA, signed off on the Consent Decree.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION: In a region known for life-threatening hurricanes during this time of year, any promotional announcements using false EAS tones are a bad idea. Shame on the Jacksonville Jaguars for creating such ill-conceived commercials, and then supplying them to a station part of the acclaimed “First Coast News” operation TEGNA (and predecessor Gannett) has operated for years. Yet, as TEGNA and the FCC both recognize, it is not the duty of the creative’s maker but that of the dissemination vehicle’s operator to ensure that any promotional advertisements do not run afoul of Commission rules. TEGNA is lucky to have had a senior staffer see the spot—live, and on its fourth airing. If this staffer hadn’t spotted the ill-advised spot, how long would it have taken for Mr. Mennie to known that his underlings failed to review the spot before loading it in to WTLV’s master control? A Consent Decree is the best way to resolve this issue. But, it reveals a shortcoming no TV station—or radio station, for that matter—should worry about. Review every single commercial, no matter how tedious or repetitive it may be to your staff, before it goes into the master control and is scheduled to air. Period. If not, you could be facing a stiff fine, big legal bills, and unwanted attention to what may otherwise be a fine operation, which is the case here in Florida’s First Coast.