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FCC fines mainstream news network $13 million for pretending paid advertising was ‘news’

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A broadcasting company actually running what amounted to “fake news” earned itself a record-setting $13 million dollar fine by the Federal Communications Commission.

Sinclair Broadcast Group faces a $13.4-million fine, the largest ever proposed by the FCC, for airing paid programming  on its TV stations during news programs but failing to disclose the sponsors, the Los Angeles Times reported.

(AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

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.

The FCC reported that the segments and programs aired more than 1,700 times, the LA Times reported.

“This programming promoted the Foundation and the Institute and included 60- to 90-second sponsored stories made to look like independently generated news coverage and 30-minute paid television programs,” the FCC said in a statement. “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. Further, entities like Sinclair that supply paid programming to other broadcasters must inform them that the programming is sponsored.”

Federal Communications Commission Building

The fine, the largest one ever proposed for an FCC sponsorship identification rules violation, was considered by Sinclair to be “unreasonable, given the circumstances of our case and the absence of any viewer harm.”

“Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error,”  the Baltimore-based company said in a statement.

The largest owner of TV stations in the U.S. at this time, Sinclair is looking for FCC approval of its $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media, expanding its reach with 233 broadcast outlets reaching 72% of the country.

Two Democratic FCC commissioners voted against the proposal Thursday because they didn’t feel it went far enough, The Hill reported. They originally suggested Sinclair be fined more than $82 million, an amount Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai thought was excessive.

Image: Google images

But Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, called Pai’s figure a “slap on the wrist.”

“Simply put, the ‘punishment does not fit the crime’ against a company that grossed more than $2.7 billion in revenue last year,” Clyburn said in a statement. “What we are talking about is an egregious violation of the Commission’s rules by a company that knows better.”

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Frieda Powers


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