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FCC Slaps Station With Fine for Not Captioning Fire Emergency

The FCC confirmed a $25,000 fine against KUSI (Channel 51) in San Diego for failing to provide emergency information for people with hearing disabilities during the wildfires of October 2003.

According to an FCC review, "Channel 51 failed to provide visual presentation of emergency information about the wildfires on numerous occasions where the information had been aurally presented."

The FCC identified 22 examples where the visual information came at least 30 minutes (if at all) after the emergency info was presented aurally.

Channel 51 said it gets to decide what's news. It said professional journalists must act as "filters" to decide what constitutes the "critical details" of an emergency if the reporting is not part of an official order.

The commission disagreed, saying its rules define emergency information as the critical details regarding the emergency and how to respond to the emergency. So when the station told people that they should evacuate if they see flames, for example, that was emergency info it should have captioned, the FCC order said, confirming findings made in 2005.

The FCC says its authority is broad on deciding which "critical details" may represent emergency information, "e.g., road closures, areas being evacuated, evacuation sites, etc."

"The commission simply cannot support a decision to withhold from persons with hearing disabilities those very critical details concerning the emergency that Channel 51 provided to hearing persons," the order said.

The station's use of full screen maps, visual displays of road closings and live shots weren't good enough, the FCC said.