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FCC Fines LPTV Station for Ads Posing as News

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(Image credit: Future Media)

The Federal Communications Commission has fined a low-power TV station $60,000 for palming off paid appearances as news appearances, violating the agency's sponsorship identification rules.

The FCC's Media Bureau entered into a consent decree earlier this month with Reynolds Media over segments in what was purported to be a news and public affairs program on Reynolds Media’s K26GS-D Harrison, Arkansas.

Broadcasters must disclose on-air the sponsors of any paid programming, but according to the FCC, various political candidates and spokespeople for commercial entities paid to be interviewed on the show were not identified as such.

"When broadcasters air paid-for programming without disclosing the program’s sponsor, they can mislead the public," the FCC said.

The FCC said that Reynolds sold ad packages in the show — Down on the Corner, subsequently renamed The Morning Show — which included candidate or spokesperson interviews. The show aired twice daily.

The FCC said the station even printed up a flyer that pitched candidates a $1,500 ad package that included a personal, live interview on the show. Some candidates took it up on the offer. Reynolds did not include any sponsorship ID. Reynolds charged spokespeople $30 per appearance to promote their entities or interview executives on the show, again without disclosing they were paid-for appearances.

“Reynolds conflated paid content with news, information, and public affairs programming,” the Media Bureau said. “In doing so, Reynolds misled the public.”

Reynolds is hardly the first station to run afoul of the FCC's sponsorship rules or which has pitched paid appearances on purported news and public affairs programs, from a Las Vegas full power planting a McDonald's coffee mug on an anchor desk, to a Chattanooga station that sold flattering “news” stories for $15,000 a pop. ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.