On May 6, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its largest civil penalty ever given to a broadcaster. Sinclair Broadcasting Group will pay a $48 million fine and follow a strict compliance plan, closing three open investigations relating to its proposed acquisition of stations belonging to Tribune Media.
Under the new agreement, the FCC will close investigations into whether Sinclair met its obligations to “negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith,” as well as its failure to properly identify sponsors for content the company produced and supplied to various television stations. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai criticized Sinclair’s attempted merger with Tribune Media. “Today’s penalty, along with the failure of the Sinclair/Tribune transaction, should serve as a cautionary tale to other licensees seeking Commission approval of a transaction in the future,” wrote Pai. “On the other hand, I disagree with those who, for transparently political reasons, demand that we revoke Sinclair’s licenses. While they don’t like what they perceive to be the broadcaster’s viewpoints, the First Amendment still applies around here.”
The FCC voted to propose a $13 million fine in December 2013 for Sinclair’s sponsorship identification violations. This included its failure to make required disclosures in connection with programming sponsored by a third party. At the time, this fine was the largest ever proposed for a violation of sponsorship identification rules. According to the announcement, “The programming in question was broadcast more than 1,700 times, either as stories resembling independently generated news coverage that aired during the local news or as longer-form stories aired as 30-minute television programs without identifying the true sponsor of the content (the Huntsman Cancer Foundation).”