For the second time in less than a month, the Federal Communications Commission has tentatively slapped a stiff fine on a media company for transmitting a simulated Emergency Alert System (EAS) tone during a telecast. In the ruling, the agency proposed a $272,000 fine against CBS Broadcasting for the infraction during an episode of the sitcom Young Sheldon on April 12, 2018. The show was carried on "at least 227 television stations, including 15 of CBS’s owned-and-operated television stations," the FCC said.
The FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture enables CBS to respond and negotiate a final financial settlement.
The Commission acknowledged that the producers modified the warning signal but ruled that the sound - which aired during a tornado warning in the storyline - "still audibly resembled actual EAS tones." The agency said that "CBS’s modifications to the EAS tones did not make broadcasting such tones permissible because the audio elements used in the episode were substantially similar to the actual EAS tones."
In mid-August, the FCC reached settlements with ABC, AMC, Discovery, and Meruelo Radio regarding the unlawful broadcast of actual or simulated EAS tones. Those agreements - which totaled more than $600,000 in civil penalties - included a fine against ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live program over misuse of the EAS tones.
In Monday's ruling, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau reiterated its Enforcement Advisory from last month, emphasizing that "broadcasting actual or simulated alert tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or authorized public service announcements is a violation of the Commission’s rules and a serious public safety concern."
"These rules aim to protect the integrity of the alert system by helping to avoid confusion in the event of a public threat or emergency, alert fatigue among listeners, and false activation of the EAS by the operative data elements contained in the alert tones," the FCC continued in today's ruling.
As explained in the item, the FCC found that CBS’s modifications to the EAS tones did not make broadcasting such tones permissible because the audio elements used in the episode were substantially similar to the actual EAS tones.
Monday's Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) only includes allegations that CBS has "apparently violated the law." The FCC may not impose a greater monetary penalty than the amount proposed in the NAL. Neither the allegations nor the proposed fine are final, and CBS will be given an opportunity to respond, after which the FCC will consider the network's evidence and legal arguments before a final decision. No timetable has been set.