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The FCC hands Sinclair Broadcasting largest civil penalty in agency’s history

Posted at 7:31 PM, May 06, 2020

The Federal Communication Commission announced on Wednesday it has handed down the largest civil penalty in the agency’s history against Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair, the nation’s largest conglomerate of local TV stations, will pay $48 million, which is double the previous largest fine paid by Univision in 2007 for $24 million.

The fine was largely due to Sinclair’s failed attempt to acquire Tribune Media, which would have added to the Sinclair’s broadcasting footprint. The agreement between the FCC and Sinclair also closes an investigation into a violation of the FCC's sponsored content policy.

“Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “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. 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 said that Sinclair violated its rules on identifying sponsored content. The programming in question was broadcast more than 1,700 times, the FCC said. The stories resembled 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 FCC said.

"Sinclair is pleased with the resolution announced today by the FCC and to be moving forward,” Sinclair President and CEO Chris Ripley said. “We thank the FCC staff for their diligence in reaching this resolution. Sinclair is committed to continue to interact constructively with all of its regulators to ensure full compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations."