FCC To Fine TV Companies For Misuse Of Emergency Alert System

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed fines of nearly $2 million against Viacom, ESPN and NBCUniversal for broadcasting an ad that misuses the warning sounds of the emergency system.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to talk about some expensive fines now. Three major broadcast companies are in pretty big trouble with federal regulators for airing a Hollywood movie ad that uses the sound of the Emergency Alert System. The Federal Communications Commission is proposing fines of nearly $2 million.

Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: We're not allowed to play the screechy emergency alert tone on the radio, or we could get fined, too. But if you go to YouTube, you can clearly hear it in this trailer for the movie, "Olympus Has Fallen."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN")

MORGAN FREEMAN: (as Speaker Trumbull) Today, we make our stand.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Olympus Has Fallen. Rated R.

ROSE: Now the FCC is making its stand. The agency wants to punish Viacom, NBCUniversal and ESPN with fines totaling $1.9 million for broadcasting the commercial dozens of times in March of last year. The FCC says the broadcasters argued that the trailer was clearly an ad, and that no one would mistake it for an actual emergency. But the agency felt differently. And it's not alone.

ROBERT THOMPSON: The whole point is it's supposed to alert you.

ROSE: Robert Thompson is a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University. Thompson says he rarely agrees with the FCC when it comes to regulating broadcast content. But in this case, he thinks the fine should be even higher.

THOMPSON: Maybe it's my age. I'm in my 50s. And that tone to this day still puts my bowels in knots. I mean I grew up at the end of duck and cover era. So maybe it meant that missile from the Soviet Union were going to be here any minute.

ROSE: In a statement, Viacom - which is facing the biggest fine - says its regrets airing the ad, and is reviewing the ruling.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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