The Federal Communications Commission recently entered into consent decrees with a television broadcaster, two cable television networks, and a radio broadcaster over charges that they used emergency alerts on air in violation of federal law.
The FCC charged Meruelo Radio Holdings with improperly using Emergency Alert System tones in promos for its morning programming on two radio stations in California. Apparently, the tones were mixed in with music, sound effects, and on-air chatter, including, "It's time for Romeo's romantic weather." As part of the settlement, Meruelo agreed to pay a civil penalty of $67,000.
In announcing the settlement, the FCC said, "The use of actual or simulated EAS tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements is a serious public safety concern."
The Emergency Alert System is a national public warning system through which broadcasters, cable television operators, wireless cable operators, wireline video service providers, satellite digital audio radio service providers, and direct broadcast satellite providers supply communications capability to the President to address the American public during a national emergency. Federal law generally prohibits the use of EAS tones, except in actual emergencies.
The reason the FCC is focused on this issue is that it is concerned about "alert fatigue" -- where people become desensitized to the alerts, leading them to ignore potentially important information.
The FCC's other settlements involved charges that the EAS tones were improperly used on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," AMC's "The Walking Dead," and Animal Planet's "Lone Star Law."
"The use of actual or simulated EAS tones during non-emergencies and outside of proper testing or public service announcements is a serious public safety concern"