FCC Slaps Sinclair With $13M Fine for Sponsorship ID Violation

FCC Slaps Sinclair With $13M Fine for Sponsorship ID Violation”

Sinclair, which has almost 200 stations and wants to buy Tribune Media Co. stations in 33 markets, broadcast the programming for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, according to an FCC news release issued on Thursday.

The fine comes as Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval of its $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media, a deal that would give the combined company access to about 70 percent of the nation's television audience.

Democratic lawmakers have accused the FCC of bias in favor of Sinclair and The Washington Post past year said the broadcaster favored President Donald Trump's election campaign.

The Commission found this type of programming was broadcast more than 1,700 times.

The Notice of Apparent Liability, came in a vote by the full commission released December 21, but with the Democrats dissenting, arguing it was merely a slap on the wrist.

The FCC said that it acted on an anonymous complaint that Sinclair had aired paid programming about the Huntsman Cancer Center during its news programs, but did not tell viewers that Huntsman paid for the stories to air.

Sinclair, the largest U.S. broadcast television group, operates almost 200 local television stations across the country and is now attempting to buy stations in dozens more markets from Tribune Media Co. - a deal that requires FCC approval. The FCC doubled the base fine (6,892,000) citing the gravity of the alleged offense and Sinclair's history of violating other FCC rules. These included 60- to 90-second sponsored stories, aired under the guise of independent news coverage, as well as 30-minute paid TV stories.

"Sinclair proudly supports the Cancer Foundation and its educational mission", the statement said. Further, entities like Sinclair that supply paid programming to other broadcasters must inform them that the programming is sponsored.

Sinclair today acknowledged the FCC's action against it and vowed to challenge the proposed fine.

This is the largest fine that the FCC has ever proposed for a violation of its sponsorship identification rules. Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error.

The FCC's action "is unreasonable, given the circumstances of our case and the absence of any viewer harm", Sinclair said. "In addition, enforcement of the sponsorship identification requirements protects competition by preventing sponsors from gaining an unfair advantage by paying stations to present commercial material as news or editorial content, while their competitors' paid programming is properly disclosed as sponsored material". For the Commission to execute a Forfeiture Order that imposes a fine or any settlement would require another vote.

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