WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission is upholding $1.4 million in fines against Viacom and ESPN for misusing the Emergency Alert System warning tones. The commission said the cable networks transmitted EAS warning tones for several days in 2013 to promote the movie “Olympus Has Fallen,” which portrayed a terrorist attack on Washington. Broadcast or transmission of EAS tones outside an emergency or a system test violates FCC rules because those tones trigger the system.
“The public relies on this system to prepare them for real emergencies,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “Our action here sends a strong signal that use of the EAS tones for non-emergency purposes presents a danger to public safety which we will not tolerate.”
Viacom was fined $1,120,000 for 108 violations on seven cable channels—with dual feeds counted individually. ESPN is being levied a $280,000 fine for 13 violations on three networks. NBCUniversal also was named in the original Notice of Apparent Liability issued last March. NBCU was fined $530,000 for 38 violations, and paid the fine. Viacom and ESPN requested a reduction. The FCC declined.
The fines, which the FCC said differ based on several factors including the number of channels involved and the number of transmissions on each channel, must be paid in 30 days.
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The fines were triggered by a series of complaints in March of 2013 over a trailer for the movie “Olympus has Fallen,” which had run on several Viacom, ESPN and NBCU nets. The trailer, “No Surrender,” opens with actual EAS tones.