ABC just found out the expensive way that using the emergency alert system tone in a television show is firmly against Federal Communications Commission’s rules.
Last October, Jimmy Kimmel Live! ran a sketch that mocked the presidential alert system and used the official emergency tone, which is apparently a big no-no. The FCC released a statement on Thursday announcing that the show would be fined $395,000 for breaking the law, according to KTVI.
In the sketch, the show used the emergency alert system tone three times. Just hours before, most everyone in America with a mobile phone received the first-ever test of the system, which read “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
The FCC has firm laws about misappropriation of both the Emergency Alert System (EAS) tone and the Wireless Emergency Alert tone (WEA), which they claim is to preserve the serious nature of the systems. The only time the tones can be used is for actual emergencies, certain public announcements, or authorized tests.
“These laws preserve and protect the ability of authentic EAS Tones to be heeded and perform important functions during actual emergencies, such as gaining the listener’s or viewer’s attention prior to the transmission of potentially life-saving information,” the statement read.
Federal officials also wrote in the statement that ABC admitted to the unauthorized use of the tone. They agreed to implement a compliance program as part of their punishment and the FCC gave the company 30 days to pay the six-figure civil penalty.
Jimmy Kimmel's ABC late-night show will pay the largest civil penalty, $395,000, in connection with an Oct. 3, 2018, episode. https://t.co/rbTiABMGXN
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) August 16, 2019
But ABC wasn’t the only violator of the FCC’s strict rules. Several other shows were fined for using the tone, as reported by KTVI.
An Animal Planet series called Lone Star Law was fined $68,000 for misuse of the emergency alert tone.
AMC’s The Walking Dead was hammered with a $104,000 fine by the FCC for using simulated tones in two scenes from a February episode, according to a statement on the matter.
California radio station owner Meruelo Radio Holdings was hit with a $67,000 penalty for using the tones in promotional material. Federal officials warned in that statement that using the tone in an unauthorized manner “can lead to dangerous ‘alert fatigue’ whereby the public becomes desensitized to the alerts, questioning whether the alerts are for areal, imminent threat or some other cause.”
According to USA Today, the $395,000 fine against ABC for breaking the rules is the largest ever civil penalty for misuse of the tone.