The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has fined Sinclair Broadcast $13.4 million for running paid content more than 1,700 times as “either stories resembling independently generated news coverage that aired during local news, or as longer-form stories aired as 30-minute television programs.” According to the FCC, the programming “included 60- to 90-second sponsored stories made to look like independently generated news coverage and 30-minute paid television programs.”
The FCC received an anonymous complaint that Sinclair had aired paid programming about the Huntsman Cancer Center, but did not tell viewers that Huntsman had paid for the stories to air. The cancer center was founded by Jon Huntsman Sr., who has long been active in Republican politics and whose son is the US ambassador to Russia.
Though it is the largest fine ever imposed for violating sponsorship identification rules, Democratic FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissented from the decision because they thought the fine should be higher. Clyburn said the fine amounted to a “slap on the wrist” for the company that grossed more than $2.7 million in revenue last year. She noted that Sinclair has been fined repeatedly over the years, including a $9.5 million settlement in 2016 for violating other regulations, including children’s television rules. She said the FCC was offering “unreasonable and suspicious favor to a company with a clear record of difficulty complying with the law.”