As the deal to take over TRIBUNE MEDIA remains pending, SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP is now facing a proposed $13,376,200 fine from the FCC for failure to disclose that stories it aired either as news reports or as 30-minute programs on its TV stations were instead paid programming.
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. Last year, Sinclair paid a $9.5 million fine to the FCC over unrelated violations.
"Sinclair proudly supports the Cancer Foundation and its educational mission", the company said in a statement.
The FCC found that the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which funds the cancer center, had paid Sinclair to produce and distribute segments promoting the research center's work that was "made to look like independently generated news coverage".
The proposed FCC fine comes one year after an anonymous tip revealed that Sinclair-owned stations aired 60- and 90-second segments promoting the Huntsman Cancer Institute but did not indicate that the group had paid for the spots to air during local newscasts and as free-standing half-hour programs.
"This is the largest fine that the Commission has ever proposed for a violation of its sponsorship identification rules", the FCC said in a news release.
Pai responded by saying in a statement that there was no basis for a fine of that scale. She pointed out that other companies have been fined to a greater extent relative to their revenues, asking, "we routinely fine companies between 3-8% of their gross revenues for egregious violations of our rules". After working to reach a reasonable settlement, we are disappointed by this NAL, which we believe is unreasonable, given the circumstances of our case and the absence of any viewer harm.
The broadcaster told the FCC as part of the inquiry that it was not required to air the disclaimers, according to the FCC, though Sinclair said it had planned to disclose the news segments but inadvertently failed to.
When broadcast licensees are paid or promised money or other valuable consideration to air specific programming, the Communications Act and FCC rules require them to air an announcement stating the program was paid for and the name of the individual or entity who paid for the program.
Once Sinclair learned of the FCC inquiry, it aired announcements acknowledging that the stories were sponsored and apologizing for not including the disclosures.