The FCC is slapping Sinclair Broadcast Group with a $13.4 million fine for running news stories on a cancer foundation but failing to disclose that the foundation was paying for them to air.
The FCC said that the programming 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.” The agency said that it was the largest fine ever imposed for a violation of its sponsorship identification rules.
The fine is also expected to give critics of Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media fodder for the argument that the transaction is not in the public interest. The FCC is currently reviewing the transaction. Sinclair said in a statement that it would challenge the FCC’s sanction.
In an era of fake news concerns, the FCC is signaling that it will act against media outlets that don’t properly disclose the origin of information or mislead the public into thinking paid material is a station’s own independent news coverage.
Sinclair’s management has always been right-leaning and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, has been accused by progressives as being favorable to the broadcaster. This fine is a way for the FCC to show it isn’t giving Sinclair a pass for violating its ad disclosure rules.