No Fine Left Behind: FCC Upholds, But Reduces, Sponsor-ID Fine

The FCC has upheld a fine against Sonshine Family Television's WBPH-TV Bethlehem, PA, for failing to disclose it had been paid by Armstrong Williams' company to air his Right Side With Armstrong Williams program, though it did reduce the proposed fine by $8,000 dollars.

The FCC proposed the fine in response to thousands of complaints filed against the show after it was revealed that the Department of Education had paid Williams to tout its No Child Left Behind initiative. Williams had then paid the stations, in this case $100 per episode, to carry the show.

FCC rules require viewers to be told when someone is being paid to persuade them and such payment has to be identified on-air per the FCC's sponsorship identification rules. The station admitted it didn't disclose the payments and the FCC, in 2007, proposed fining it $40,000 for five separate episodes that aired a total of 10 times, with each mentioning No Child Left Behind.

The station fought the fine, arguing that the violation was minor, that it had made a good-faith effort to abide by the rules, that it was unable to pay, that the FCC was inequitably applying the sponsorship rules, that it could not afford to pay and that it had a history of complying with other FCC rules.

The FCC rejected all but the last, and said that since the commission could find no other violations in Sonshine's record it would cut the fine by 20% to $32,000.

John Eggerton

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.