An old Conan promo that simulated the nails-on-chalkboard sounds of the Emergency Alert System looks have cost TBS $25,000. The Federal Communications Commission this week alerted TBS it is slapping the cable network with a fine in that amount over a 2012 Conan promo it telecast that used the well-known sounds intended to warn viewers of national emergencies.
The FCC — the government agency charged with fining those who misuse the distinctive EAS sounds — has given Turner notice of the fine for “the transmission of false distress signals,” unless it can dissuade the commission within 30 days.
The FCC this past February launched an investigation into a viewer complaint about a 2012 promo for TBS’s Conan O’Brien late-night show. Turner admitted, the FCC said, that it produced and distributed a promotion, for use prior to April 26, 2012, that included a “sound effect” in part derived from an online source, which the network insisted was not part of the actual EAS code, but did include a prerecorded “sound burst” followed by a “bars and tone” sound. Turner “admits that the promotion was not made in connection with an actual national, state or local emergency or authorized test of the EAS,” the FCC said. Turner also argued the promo was produced within such a “tight timeframe” that the production team never submitted it for S&P review. Since May of ’12, all promos for Conan’s show have undergone S&P scrutiny, TBS pledged, according to the FCC.
Turner declined comment on Wednesday.
(The FCC this week also cracked down on a Bowling Green, Kentucky TV stations over an advertisement that used the EAS sounds to advertise “The Fan Wear & More Store.” Station licensee, MMK License LLC, did not dispute that it broadcast a simulation of an EAS sound within that advertisement, and and wound up agreeing to pay more than TBS looks destined to shell out — a $39,000 “voluntary contribution.”)
EAS-abuse — TV and radio commercials using the EAS sounds “to capture audience attention during advertisements” — is a growing trend, the FCC said. The use of the sounds is banned and the FCC will bide no such rannygazoo, commission Enforcement Bureau Acting Chief Robert H. Ratcliffe made very clear in his statement that accompanied the FCC announcement about the TBS fine. “It is inexcusable to trivialize the sounds specifically used to notify viewers of the dangers of an incoming tornado or to alert them to be on the lookout for a kidnapped child, merely to advertise a talk show or a clothing store,” he said. “This activity not only undermines the very purpose of a unique set of emergency alert signals, but is a clear violation of the law.”
The FCC has prohibited the transmission of actual or simulated EAS Attention Signals or tones under any circumstances other than a real alert or an authorized test of the EAS system for two decades. The EAS, the commission says, is a national public warning system that requires broadcasters, cable television operators, wireless cable operators, wireline video service providers, satellite digital audio radio service providers, and direct broadcast satellite providers to make it possible for the President of the United States to address the American public during a national emergency. Federal, state, and local authorities may also use the EAS to deliver important emergency information, such as Amber Alerts and weather information, such as tornado warnings, targeted to specific areas.
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