San Diego indy KUSI-TV was very active in covering wildfires in its broadcast area back in 2003. Although its focus on news is unusual for a non-network affiliate, it still came under fire from the FCC for failing to make verbal emergency information known to the aurally-impaired. Much of the problem revolved around reporting of evacuation orders which were not noted with texting. In some other instances, KUSI argued that it was reporting information that wasn’t complete, and that it had to act as a filter – had it made the material available to the hearing impaired, they may have made bad decisions based on the possibly incomplete or unconfirmed information reporters in the field were communication.
The FCC countered that if the information was so potentially dangerous that it should be kept from the hearing impaired, perhaps it should have been kept from everybody else as well. Also falling flat was KUSI’s argument that reporter commentary was accompanied by maps and live shots indicating road closings and other information. The FCC said that was no substitute for accurate, clearly conveyed emergency information. As it stands, the FCC noted that 22 specific citations, at a base fine of $8K a pop, could result in a fine in excess of $160K. KUSI is only being hit for $25K, which the FCC will enforce.
RBR/TVBR observation: By now all stations are supposed to be ready to handle close captioning just about all the time. We expect we’ll see less and less of this sort of situation going forward. Ultimately, KUSI is to be commended for being out there reporting from the field in a time of crisis, when many non-affiliates would limited to continuing its regularly-scheduled program due to lack of any kind of in-house news capability.