WASHINGTON—The FCC has put a lump of coal in the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s stocking in the form of a $13,376,200 proposed fine for violating the commission’s sponsorship identification rules. According to the FCC’s findings, Sinclair failed to disclose the connections between programming sponsored by a third party.
In April 2016, the FCC received an anonymous complaint alleging that Sinclair had aired paid programming about the Huntsman Cancer Institute during news programming, but failed to disclose that the Huntsman Cancer Foundation paid for the stories to air. The programming was broadcast more than 1,700 times, either as stories resembling independently generated news coverage that aired during local news, or as longer-form stories aired as 30-minute television programs.
FCC’s investigation revealed that Sinclair and the Foundation had entered into an agreement under which Sinclair produced and supplied programming to both Sinclair and non-Sinclair television stations.
The Communications Act and FCC rules require broadcast licensees to air an announcement stating a program was paid for and the name of the individual or entity who paid for the program. In addition, entities that supply paid programming to other broadcasters—like Sinclair—must inform them that the programming is sponsored. Sinclair did not meet these requirements according to the FCC.
The FCC says the proposed fine, or Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), is the largest it has ever proposed for a sponsorship identification rule violation. Sinclair will now have 30 days to respond to this notice or to pay the fine. The commission will review any response or new evidence before conducting a vote to officially impose a fine.
Sinclair issued a statement saying that it will plan to contest the severity of the proposed fine:
“Sinclair proudly supports the Cancer Foundation and its educational mission. Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error. After working to reach a reasonable settlement, we are disappointed in this NAL, which we believe is unreasonable, given the circumstances of our case and the absence of any viewer harm. We disagree with the FCC’s action and intend to contest this unwarranted fine.”