The FCC yesterday announced a consent decree with TEGNA, the licensee of a television station in Jacksonville, Florida, which used simulated EAS tones in a promotional announcement for the Jacksonville Jaguars football team. According to the consent decree, the station ran the announcement only 4 times. It was apparently produced by the team and inserted into the station’s master control without review. It was only after the fourth airing that a management employee noted the ad, and had it pulled from the air. Even though run only 4 times, the ad nevertheless was determined to warrant the $55,000 penalty agreed to in the consent decree, and a three-year long mandatory compliance plan that applies company wide, not just to the station with the violations that were reported to the FCC. The compliance plan includes the appointment of a compliance officer, the development of a written compliance plan, and a mandatory training program for employees involved in the airing of announcements such as the one that caused the issue here. In addition, the licensee must file regular reports with the FCC over a three year period certifying that the compliance plan has been met and reporting any issues that may arise.
This ad also contained an introduction that stated: “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.” While not specifically highlighted by the FCC as being the basis of any increase in the amount of the assessed penalty, these statements were highlighted in the FCC’s News Release about this consent decree, which may indicate concerns that such statements made the ad even more confusing to TV viewers. Viewers may not have realized that the EAS tones themselves were only simulated and not actual EAS tones that trigger alerts on other broadcast stations that may have been monitoring this TV station. The FCC has repeatedly penalized stations for airing EAS tones, real or simulated, in non-emergency situations (see our posts here, here, here, here, and here about other cases where even larger fines have been imposed on broadcasters and cable programmers for improperly using EAS tones). The fear is that these tones will desensitize viewers so that, when there is a real emergency, they will not react. This decision should act as a reminder to broadcasters – don’t use EAS tones or language except where there is a real emergency.