Sinclair Agrees to Pay Record $48 Million Penalty

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Sinclair Broadcast Group will pay a record $48 million civil penalty to resolve three outstanding FCC investigations, the FCC said Wednesday. But the agency will not revoke the broadcaster's licenses, as some had sought. 

That is twice the previous $24 million record paid by Univision in 2007 settlement with the FCC. 

Sinclair is settling investigations into 1) its disclosure of information related to its attempted merger with Tribune, 2) whether it was negotiating retransmission consent in good faith, and 3) its failure to identify sponsors of content it produced for Sinclair and non-Sinclair stations. 

Related: FCC Proposes $13 Million Fine Over Paid Programming

“Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. "Today’s penalty, along with the failure of the Sinclair/Tribune transaction, should serve as a cautionary tale to other licensees seeking Commission approval of a transaction in the future. On the other hand, I disagree with those who, for transparently political reasons, demand that we revoke Sinclair’s licenses. While they don’t like what they perceive to be the broadcaster’s viewpoints, the First Amendment still applies around here.”

Part of the settlement is the $13 million the FCC proposed fining Sinclair over not disclosing paid programming, which was itself the biggest fine for a sponsorship ID violation. Sinclair has agreed to admit it did, indeed, violate those ID rules.  

The announcement came the same day Sinclair announced its first quarter financial results. 

“I’ve been concerned about how this process has played out over the last two years, and I’m glad that an agreeable consent decree was reached that addresses the alleged questionable application process issues while allowing significant resolution, thereby putting the situation successfully behind us," said FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly. "This should allow Sinclair to focus on broadcasting and serving American viewers in its markets, which is critical during this time." 

"The Sinclair consent decree is historic in that it defines the outer limits of push-back by a broadcaster at the FCC," said Adonis Hoffman, former top Democratic FCC staffer. "I suspect Sinclair has turned the page, however, as it seeks to lead the way on regional sports networks, local news and ATSC 3.0, next generation TV."

Hoffman how chairs his own consulting firm, Business in the Public Interest, which provides research for media and tech companies, including Sinclair.

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.