NEW YORK – The Federal Communications Commission has proposed fining TV-station owner Sinclair $13.4 million for not identifying paid programming as advertising.
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is one of the country’s largest owners of TV stations. It pays networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox for the national news, shows and sports it airs on those stations and airs local news shows.
The FCC said Thursday that Sinclair’s Salt Lake City station produced news story-like programming for local news broadcasts and longer 30-minute TV programs for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
The FCC said these spots that weren’t properly identified as ads aired more than 1,700 times in 2016 across 64 Sinclair-owned TV stations and also on 13 other stations not owned by the company. The FCC said Sinclair apparently didn’t tell these stations that it didn’t own that it was providing an ad.
The FCC’s two Democratic commissioners dissented from the penalty on Sinclair, saying it was too small. Republicans are in the majority of the agency’s leadership.
Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, has 30 days to contest the proposed fine or pay it. Sinclair said in a statement Thursday that it would contest the fine.
“Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair is awaiting regulatory approval for its proposed takeover of rival Tribune Media. The Justice Department and the FCC must approve the deal. Critics who tend to oppose media mergers say the Republican-controlled-FCC has paved the way for such TV-industry consolidation by relaxing ownership rules for broadcasters.
The Utah-based Huntsman Cancer Foundation, founded by billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr. and his wife, raises funds for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a cancer research center and hospital in Salt Lake City.
The Huntsman Cancer Foundation was not responsible for how Sinclair presented these ads, said the foundation’s president, Susan Sheehan, in an email. “Please understand that this error was outside of the control of Huntsman Cancer Foundation,” she said.
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