FCC alert about emergency alert abuse


TBS / Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.A great attention-grabber in a broadcast commercial is the insertion of the emergency alert signal or a reasonable imitation of it. The only problem is that it’s completely illegal. Recent cases have caused the FCC to issue an advisory, a fine and to enter into a consent decree.

“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 of a unique set of emergency alert signals, but is a clear violation of the law.”

Turner Broadcasting System is the one hit with a notice of apparently liability priced at $25K. It used the attention signal in a promo for the Conan O’Brien Show in TBS Network.

WNKY(DT) Bowling Green KY’s MMK Licensee used the signal in an ad for The Fan Wear & More Store. Rather than getting hit with a fine, it negotiated a consent decree that includes a provision that it make a $39K donation to the US Treasury.

In warning stations off unauthorized use of the signal, the FCC stated, “The EAS is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television operators, wireless cable operators, wireline video service providers, satellite digital audio radio service providers, and direct broadcast satellite providers to make it possible for the President of the United States to address the American public during a national emergency.  Federal, state, and local authorities may also use the EAS to deliver important emergency information, such as Amber Alerts and weather information, such as tornado warnings, targeted to specific areas.  The FCC enforces its EAS rules to ensure that the EAS Attention Signal and tones are not used for unauthorized purposes.”