San Diego TV off the hook for 2008 captioning fine


FCCWhen an emergency is in progress, local broadcasters time and time again step up and provide critical and sometimes life-saving information. Such was the case with San Diego indy KUSI-TV, which was on the story but on 22 occasions failed to get the info it was conveying into a form accessible to the aurally-impaired. The FCC said at the time that it could have gone to the maximum statutory limit with a $160K fine. Instead, it hit the station with a $25K penalty, but now it’s off the hook entirely.

The FCC finally relented on the penalty after several rounds of appeals.

Here’s what we reported back in 2008: “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.”

Each of the incidents identified by the FCC could have carried an $8K penalty, which multiplied by 22 would have yielded the $160K maximum fine.

RBR-TVBR observation: We remarked at the time that this is a sensitive area for the FCC to go wildly swinging its penalty billyclub. Had KUSI decided to ignore the wildfires and instead broadcast 1950s sitcom reruns, it would have been safe from punishment. Yes, we want the aurally-impaired to get critical information, but better the station gets the info out there as best it can under duress than not do any reporting at all.


  1. Essentially, then, you authorize illegally inaccessible broadcasts because the sole alternative is “1950s sitcom reruns.”

    The law is not unknown to station administrators. You have not demonstrated that inaccessible emergency broadcasts didn’t happen, just that they’re really no big deal and are, effectively, optional. Legislation holds otherwise.

  2. Hi, Joe, thanks for your comments.

    I just imagine a situation where a non-affiliated station is probably in chaos trying to do the right thing under difficult conditions. If they simply continued running informercials for dietary supplements or exercise equipment, they are not liable for any FCC action. Instead, they were out there doing the job, maybe not perfectly, but the station should be commended.

    If I was the FCC, I would applaud them for their action in the public interest, and admonish them for failing to account for the aurally-impaired. I would certainly not hit the station with the $25K fine, but I would order it to do their good work up to the legal specifications the next time…

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