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How an April Fools’ Day On-Air Prank Gone Wrong Could Result in FCC Issues

 |  March 29, 2024

By: David Oxenford (Broadcast Law Blog)

In this article, David Oxenford discusses the importance for broadcasters to be cautious with on-air pranks, jokes, or other bits, especially around April Fools’ Day. Oxenford reminds broadcasters of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rule against on-air hoaxes, outlined in Section 73.1217. This rule prohibits stations from broadcasting false information about a “crime or catastrophe” if it’s known to be false, foreseeable to cause substantial public harm, and actually causes such harm.

The definition of public harm includes damage to property, health, safety, or diversion of law enforcement or public health and safety authorities from their duties. Oxenford emphasizes that violating this rule can result in fines from the FCC.

The article recounts incidents in the early 1990s that prompted the adoption of this rule, such as a station falsely claiming a hostage situation and another reporting a fake explosion at a trash dump. These incidents led to first responders being unnecessarily dispatched and unavailable for genuine emergencies. As a result, the FCC implemented the prohibition against broadcast hoaxes.

David continues with a warning for broadcasters to exercise caution during April Fools’ Day and emphasizes the potential legal and safety consequences of violating FCC rules regarding on-air hoaxes…