Sinclair Pays $9 Million-Plus to Settle FCC Retrans Investigation

Sinclair has agreed to pay almost $10 million to settle FCC investigations into whether it violated prohibitions on coordinated retransmission consent negotiations.

The FCC said that nothing in the record raises substantial questions about Sinclair's basic qualifications to be a licensee.

Sinclair did not admit to any liability.

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In 2014, Congress passed a law that said it would be a per se breach of a broadcaster’s good faith negotiation obligation to "coordinate negotiations or negotiating on a joint basis with another television broadcast station in the same local market" unless they are under common control. The FCC adopted such a rule in February 2015.

The consent decree resolves its investigation into whether Sinclair violated that rule in negotiations in 2015 involving 36 non-Sinclair stations with which it had various joint agreements and a half dozen MVPDs.

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Sinclair will have to pay $9,495,000 and waive the right to appeal or stay the payment.

The FCC recently concluded its review of its definition of retransmission consent good faith negotiations without adding any new categories. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler indicated the existing standard gave it enough room to crack down in individual cases.

"In our view, the Media Bureau has sent an important signal to TV station owners that violations of the law will not be tolerated and significant penalties await those who failed to appreciate the fair warning given in today's proportional action against Sinclair," said the American Cable Association, which has long pushed the FCC to crack down on coordinated retrans negotiations.

“The American Television Alliance applauds today’s enforcement action by the FCC.  Today’s action sends a strong message of deterrence to the broadcast industry that rule breaking and bad faith will not be tolerated," said Trent Duffy, spokesman for the American Television Alliance, cable and satelite operators and others (ACA is a member) who have been fighting for retrans reform.

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.