Getting TV Information in Emergencies
By Cheryl Heppner
Editor: We’ve reported several times on the process for filing complaints with the FCC; I’ve always thought that the process isn’t nearly as smooth as it could and should be. It turns out that others agree with this assessment, and they’ve done something about it! Here’s Cheryl’s report on a recent discussion between hearing loss advocates and FCC personnel. Let’s hope this discussion leads to a streamlining of the FCC complaint process!
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During the past three years, the number of complaints reported to NVRC about lack of visual information on TV during emergencies has always been heaviest during the summer thunderstorm and hurricane seasons. Your stories are usually like this: you turn on your TV and you see a headline saying “tornado warning” in front of a Doppler map or a talking newscaster — but there are no captions or any other kind of visual information to tell you if you need to take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Or you’re watching TV when you see the caption “Breaking News” and your pulse starts to race as the newscast proceeds without captions or other visual information.
Our local TV stations are, I hope, much more aware of our need for this information and their responsibilities to provide it. It’s a new age now, with the requirement since January 1, 2006 for 100% captioning of all local news programs here in one of the country’s Top 25 markets. But what happens when we travel somewhere else?
NVRC has filed a number of complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on behalf of consumers here and elsewhere after they dealt with emergencies where the required visual information wasn’t provided. Our experience with those complaints has convinced me that the complaint process is seriously flawed and needs to be fixed.
On June 6, 2006, I met with Monica Desai, who heads the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, and Thomas Chandler, who heads the FCC’s Disability Rights Office to make them aware of these issues. Fellow advocates at the meeting who added valuable perspectives and information were Rosaline Crawford of the National Association of the Deaf and Claude Stout of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Here’s an outline of the issues we raised:
The Catch-22 Consumers are currently required to tell what information is missing from the TV broadcast when sending their complaints. Only people who can hear are able to provide this information.
· An emergency situation is being reported; the consumer wants action quickly.
· Consumers are unsure about the appropriate person to contact at a TV station and how to make contact (phone number, email address, fax).
· Consumers may call a TV station and get a voice mail message or answering machine, particularly after hours.
· Consumers turning to the FCC for information about filing a complaint find fact sheets and web information that is not consumer-friendly.
· Consumers contact the FCC wanting their complaints to be resolved immediately; they don’t want to become part of a drawn-out legal proceeding.
· FCC staff may ask additional questions of consumers; this often gives consumers the feeling they are viewed as the problem, not the victim.
· When the TV station is served with a complaint by the FCC, its written response is usually not from the station head or supervisor but from its legal counsel.
· The station usually sends to the consumer, via certified mail, a copy of its response letter to the FCC.
Handling of Complaints
Lack of Communication
· After receiving a copy of the station’s response letter, the consumer is not provided information about how to give additional input if s/he disagrees with the station’s statements.
· FCC staff do not keep in touch with the consumer regarding the status of the complaint.
Flawed Complaint Process
· Consumers turn to the FCC when unable to contact the TV station, but find there is no 24-hour staffing for complaints made by phone, email or fax.
· Complaints that are sent to the FCC are not immediately flagged for expedited processing despite their emergency nature.
· The burden is on the consumer to prove that crucial information was missing; TV stations are not required to produce tapes.
· Stations, once served with a complaint, are given up to 30 days to respond.
· Many complaints are never acted upon by the FCC, but the consumer is not informed of the complaints status, or told if the complaint does not go forward.
Recent Loss of FCC Knowledge Base re Consumer Needs, Regulations
These two individuals had previously been the FCC staff most involved in handling complaints
· Jenifer Simpson, Disability Rights Office
· Mark Stone, Enforcement Bureau
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