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FCC Reminds Stations of Emergency Obligations

The FCC Friday cautioned broadcasters covering Hurricane Katrina not to forget to make all their emergency information available to the deaf and hard of hearing.

While it saluted the "heroic efforts of all those who have worked to protect life and property from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, including those to whom this reminder is directed," it also said that it had received complaints that "some emergency information being provided over television is not being made accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing."

Broadcasters aren't required to closed caption all that information--the logistics of that would be enormous, particularly for smaller stations--but they have to make sure it is relayed in some accessible form, including crawls or graphics, or something as simple as "handwriting on a blackboard."

The warning came the same day attorneys for two Florida TV stations were asking the commission to rescind a $24,000 fine apiece for their coverage of Hurricane Charley last year.

THey argued that it was "overenforcement" to single out a few seconds in days-long coverage, and could even discourage such coverage for fear of slipping up and getting fined. They also cited praise they had gotten for their coverage, and pointed to the accolades Gulf Coast stations were getting for Katrina reports.

The FCC earlier this year also fined stations covering California wildfires for failing to make some info accessible to hearing impaired. It was greeted with similar incredulity from broadcasters who had continued to report while their own property and families were endangered by the fires.

"The Commission recognizes that Hurricane Katrina presented and continues to present extraordinarily difficult challenges to video programming distributors in continuing or re-establishing their operations," the commission said, but then reiterated those stations' obligation to make sure all emergency information is conveyed to "persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, or blind or have low vision."