On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission reached a handful of settlements with media outlets following investigations into whether they misused the emergency alert system tone.
The agency found that ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, AMC’s The Walking Dead, Animal Planet’s Lone Star Law, and Meruelo Radio Holdings all misused the emergency alert system (EAS) tone, a sound that is blasted out to television and smartphones to warn people of emergencies like tornadoes, floods, and missing children. The companies have agreed to pay a total of more than $600,000 in civil penalties for the violations.
The FCC has a rule against using the tone outside of actual emergencies to “protect the integrity” of the system. That way, listeners aren’t confused when there’s an actual emergency that warrants the alert.
“We remain concerned about the misuse of the EAS codes and EAS and WEA Attention Signals, or simulations thereof, to capture audience attention during advertisements; dramatic, entertainment, and educational programs, and at any other time that there is no genuine alert,” the agency’s enforcement bureau said in a statement. “The FCC may issue sanctions for such violations, including, but not limited to, monetary forfeitures.”
Each program played the alert at least once. For example, Jimmy Kimmel’s show used it three different times in a comedy sketch. An Animal Planet crew recorded a real alert when filming during Hurricane Harvey in Texas, which was then rebroadcast in an episode of Lone Star Law.
Outside of the monetary penalties, the companies also agreed to what the agency called “a strict compliance plan” to make sure the alerts aren’t played unless warranted again.