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FCC fines Viacom, ESPN $1.4 million for emergency alert misuse

FCC fines Viacom and ESPN $1.4 million for misuse of Emergency Alert System warnings

The Federal Communications Commission is demanding that Viacom and ESPN pay fines totaling $1.4 million for misuse of Emergency Alert System warnings.

In 2013, three media companies ran trailers for the film "Olympus Has Fallen," that contained emergency alert warning tones. The movie, starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman and directed by Antoine Fuqua, centers on a terrorist attack on Washington, D.C.

Broadcast or transmission of the tones except during an emergency or a system test is a violation of FCC laws. On Tuesday, the FCC chairman and the four commissioners voted unanimously to impose the fines.

"The public relies on this system to prepare them for real emergencies," Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. 

The FCC launched an investigation into the inclusion of the Emergency Alert System tones in the movie trailers after the commercials aired. The three media companies, including NBCUniversal, acknowledged the commercials did in fact contain actual alert signals.

The FCC last spring proposed a fine of $1.93 million to be split among the three media companies. NBCUniversal, part of Comcast Corp., paid its $530,000 fine.

However, ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Co., and Viacom asked for a reduction in the amount of their fines.

The FCC rejected Viacom and ESPN's arguments, and instead demanded that Viacom pay $1.12 million and that ESPN pay $280,000. The fines differed because they were calculated based on the times the movie trailer ran, and the number of channels that carried the commercial.

ESPN declined Tuesday to comment. A Viacom spokesman said: “We believe that the enforcement action and fine were unwarranted, and are considering our next steps."

The two companies have until Feb. 20 to pay the fines.

"Our action here sends a strong signal that use of the [Emergency Alert System] tones for non-emergency purposes presents a danger to public safety, which we will not tolerate," LeBlanc said.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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