06.03.2005 08:00 AM
Three D.C. stations fined for failing to warn hearing disabled of storms

The FCC Enforcement Bureau last week proposed forfeitures of between $8000 and $16,000 for three Washington, D.C., broadcasters for apparent violations of rules related to the broadcast of emergency warning information.

The bureau issued the notices of apparent liability to ACC Licensee (WJLA-TV), NBC Telemundo License (WRC-TV) and Fox Television Stations (WTTG) after investigating complaints from viewers that emergency information related to a severe thunderstorm/tornado watch May 25, 2004, was not presented in a timely fashion for those members of the viewing audience with hearing disabilities.

According to the bureau, FCC rules require that video program distributors conveying emergency messages in the audio portion of a broadcast must give those with hearing disabilities access to the same information with closed captioning or another visual presentation.

In the ACC case, the bureau determined that a WJLA-TV meteorologist advised viewers living between Leesburg and Lucketts, VA, to take cover in their basements or in an interior room of their homes and cover themselves with blankets and quilts at 6:50 p.m. After reviewing a tape of the station’s coverage of the severe weather conditions, the bureau found that ACC did not give the same information in a closed caption or other visual presentation until about 9:22 p.m.

In the case of NBC Telemundo, the bureau found two instances where WRC-TV apparently failed to comply with the rules. After reviewing tapes of the station’s storm coverage, the bureau determined that meteorologist Bob Ryan told Prince George’s County viewers to get away from their windows at 8:49 p.m. and again at 9:02 p.m. In both instances, the bureau found that the station failed to provide closed captioning or another visual presentation of the emergency warning.

The bureau found two similar failures after reviewing Fox Television’s tapes of WTTG programming that evening, one at 6:20 p.m. regarding an emergency warning for Frederick and Hagerstown, MD, and the other at 6:45 for Lovettsville, Leesburg, and Lucketts, VA.

According to the three notices of liability, the commission does not have a specific fine for such violations. The forfeiture amount of $8000 per incident was levied because that is the amount specified for failing to install and operate Emergency Alert System equipment, which the bureau determined to be analogous to these apparent rules violations.

For more information, visit www.fcc.gov.

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