FCC Fines Jimmy Kimmel Live $400,000 for Using Emergency Alert Tone in Very Expensive Joke

Photo: Associated Press

Last October Jimmy Kimmel Live! made some expensive jokes about President Donald Trump’s ability to send emergency alerts to approximately 225 million phones across the country.

The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on misuse of Emergency Alert System (EAS) tones. In a news release issued on Thursday, the FCC announced it reached settlements with radio and TV broadcasters for playing the tone for national and regional audiences when there wasn’t an official national emergency. The release states that the FCC doesn’t allow broadcasting of the EAS tone or simulated sounds outside of actual emergencies, public service announcements, or tests.

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According to the announcement, ABC had to pay $395,000 because Jimmy Kimmel Live! played a simulated emergency tone three times in a sketch, which the FCC claims went to 250 TV stations. The sketch was a send-up of the news that President Trump would be performing a test of the emergency alert system last October and the general fear among some Americans that Trump would turn the EAS into a more powerful version of his Twitter feed.

The agency also fined AMC $104,000 for the “Omega” episode of The Walking Dead that aired in February, which played the sounds twice.

An episode of Lone Star Law, which aired on the Animal Planet network between January and March of last year, included a wireless emergency alert sound because a real alert went out on phones as the crew filmed Texas Game Wardens working after Hurricane Harvey. Because the sound was included in the show, the parent company, Discovery, had to pay the FCC $68,000.

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Additionally, the KDEY-FM radio station was fined $67,000 for playing the alert sound on promotions for a Los Angeles-based morning show. Altogether the FCC raked in $600,000 in emergency alert-related fines.

Of course, this FCC rule is meant to limit overuse of the EAS sound, so as to avoid false alarms and ensure people take the alert seriously when it is used. But the agency had to know that late-night comedians were going to mock the president’s ability to spam the majority of the American people.

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo