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FCC proposes fine against Fox for broadcasting emergency tones

The segment, which aired on more than 200 television and radio stations, was connected to a promotion for a football game.

The segment, which aired on more than 200 television and radio stations, was connected to a promotion for a football game.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $504,000 fine against Fox Corporation and its local television subsidiaries for broadcasting emergency alert tones when promoting a football game.

In a notice of apparent liability published on the FCC’s website Tuesday, the federal agency said Fox transmitted tones used for the emergency alert system (EAS) while promoting its National Football League (NFL) coverage on November 28, 2021. The promo aired on over 18 Fox-owned local television stations across the country, as well as on 190 Fox affiliated TV stations, on Fox Sports-affiliated iHeartMedia radio stations and on the Fox Sports SiriusXM satellite radio channel.

The FCC said members of Fox’s production team “reviewed the promotional segment following its development, and prior to its public transmission, but provided no comments or changes” before it aired on radio and television.

Federal rules prohibit broadcasters from transmitting EAS tones with no nexus to an actual emergency. The reason for the rule is to make sure the public doesn’t have “alert fatigue” — in other words, when they hear the tones, they know it’s connected to the EAS and could warn of a potential emergency.

In this case, the promotional segment that aired on TV and radio stations used the same frequency tones that are used to activate actual EAS equipment, but it did not appear that an activation actually took place.

The FCC became aware of Fox’s use of the EAS tones because the broadcaster voluntarily told the agency as much in an email. But the FCC said it would not cut Fox slack over its violation of the EAS rules, because disclosure in this case was mandatory, not optional.

“This was not a minor violation,” an official with the FCC wrote in the notice published on Tuesday. The agency proposed a $144,000 fine for the broadcast of the tones on Fox’s 18 owned-and-operated stations, and an increase to $504,000 for the airing of the promo on the Fox TV affiliates, Fox Sports radio network and Fox Sports SiriusXM channel.

It was not clear if Fox intends to challenge the FCC’s proposed fine. A spokesperson for Fox Corporation has not yet returned a request for comment as of Tuesday afternoon. The FCC said Fox should be able to pay the fine because it brought in over $4.44 billion in revenue during the financial quarter in which it aired the promo.

The fine against Fox is the latest example of the FCC’s enforcement bureau taking action against a radio or television broadcaster for using EAS tones outside an actual emergency or system test. In August 2021, the FCC proposed a $20,000 fine against the Walt Disney Company’s sports network ESPN for using the EAS tones in a news magazine program. Six years earlier, the agency hit iHeartMedia with a $1 million fine for similar use of EAS tones during an airing of the syndicated morning program “The Bobby Bones Show.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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