FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ June 2017
Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:
- TV Broadcaster Agrees to $55,000 “Civil Penalty” for Airing False EAS Tones
- Radio Broadcaster to Donate or Surrender Nine FM Stations to Resolve Investigation of Stations Being Silent for Extended Periods
- FCC Proposes $6,000 Fine Against California TV Station for Public File and Related Violations
Broadcast of False EAS Tones Leads to $55,000 Settlement with FCC
The FCC entered into a Consent Decree with the parent company of a Florida TV station to resolve an investigation into whether the station transmitted Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) tones outside of an actual emergency.
Section 325(a) of the Communications Act prohibits any person from transmitting “any false or fraudulent signal of distress” or similar communication. Further, Section 11.45 of the FCC’s Rules prohibits transmission of “the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof,” unless it is “an actual National, State, or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS” (emphasis added).
On August 9, 2016, the FCC received a complaint alleging that the station had “aired a commercial multiple times that improperly used the EAS data burst and tone.” The FCC subsequently began an investigation into whether the station had violated its rules governing EAS, and directed the station to respond to the allegations. In its response, the station explained that it started airing an advertisement on August 6, 2016 for a professional football team which opened with EAS Tones, the sounds of wind and thunder, and a voiceover stating: “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.”
The station claimed that its policies and practices do not allow transmission of false EAS tones, but that it received the advertisement from an outside source and the station’s “employees apparently failed to screen the Promotion before airing it.” The station explained that when a senior member of the station’s staff saw the advertisement on August 8, 2016, he notified the general manager that it contained a prohibited use of an EAS tone, and told staff not to air it again.
The station’s parent company subsequently entered into a consent decree with the FCC to resolve the investigation, under which the company (1) admitted that the station aired material that contained simulated EAS tones absent an actual emergency or authorized test of the EAS, (2) agreed to pay a $55,000 civil penalty, and (3) agreed to implement a three-year compliance plan.
Radio Broadcaster Agrees to Donate or Surrender Nine FM Station Licenses for Failure to Operate Stations
The owner of a number of radio stations entered into a Consent Decree with the FCC to resolve an investigation into the company’s alleged failure to operate its stations during their most recent license terms.
Section 312(g) of the Communications Act prohibits extended periods of silence by licensed stations because of their obligation to serve the public by broadcasting on their allocated spectrum. Specifically, a station’s license will automatically terminate if it remains silent for twelve consecutive months unless the FCC acts to extend or reinstate the license where “the holder of the station license prevails in an administrative or judicial appeal, the applicable law changes, or for any other reason to promote equity and fairness.” Additionally, the Act authorizes the FCC to revoke any station license for failure to operate substantially as set forth in that license, and Section 73.1740 of the FCC’s Rules establishes minimum operating requirements for broadcast stations. Continue reading →