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TV broadcaster Sinclair fined $48 million over Tribune deal

By Tali Arbel Associated Press

The federal government has fined Sinclair Broadcasting Corp. $48 million, largely because of actions the TV broadcaster took in its failed attempt to acquire smaller rival Tribune Media.

Sinclair in 2017 proposed a $3.9 billion deal for Tribune’s TV stations, attempting to extend its reach into new markets. The deal fell apart that August, and another TV station owner, Nexstar, bought Chicago-based Tribune in 2019.

Sinclair has a reputation for a conservative viewpoint in its broadcasts, and regulatory pushback against the deal drew condemnation from President Donald Trump, who tweeted in July 2018 that the combined company “would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.”

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had expressed reservations about Sinclair’s proposed sales of some TV stations, moves meant to assuage broadcasting industry consolidation concerns. Noting that the potential buyers had ties to Sinclair, he said the company might still be able to operate the stations “in practice, even if not in name” after the sales.

In a statement Wednesday, Pai said, “Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable.”

The FCC statement, however, did not detail what Sinclair practices were deemed unacceptable.

The settlement also closes an investigation into Sinclair’s failure to identify paid programming as advertising, for which the agency had previously proposed fining Sinclair for $13 million. In addition it ends a probe of Sinclair’s negotiations with cable and satellite TV companies.

The FCC did not provide any further details on Wednesday.

In a tweeted statement Wednesday, Sinclair, which is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, said it was pleased with the resolution.

The FCC said this is a record fine for a broadcaster. It has issued larger penalties to robocallers and phone companies.

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