Tempers Rise in FCC Over Sinclair Record Fine

FCC commissioners from the Republican and Democratic Parties traded barbs during the week following the record fine the federal agency levied on Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative leaning company.

During the first six months of 2016, Sinclair aired over 1,723 segments on-air related to the Huntsman Cancer Institute on 64 of its local television stations across the country.

Those segments, which were for the most part 60- to 90-seconds spots along with some broadcasts of 30 minutes, looked like any other independent news story, but Sinclair did not disclose that the Huntsman Cancer Foundation had paid for those segments.

The FCC announced that Sinclair had violated its rules of sponsorship identification, and that the fine of $13.3 million was the largest ever levied for that type of offense.

Bigger fines have been issued by the FCC for other types of violations including one for $120 million that a robocaller was charged.

But the two Democratic commissioners from the FCC said that the fine should have been substantially larger or $82 million equal to 3% of the annual sales for the company, which would be its maximum allowed fine, under the bylaws of the regulator.

The Democrats also accused the Republican majority at the FCC of political favoritism.

In dissent against this judgement, one of the commissioners, who is a Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel said that the fine was a suspicious and unreasonable favor. Labeling this fine just a slap on the wrist, Mignon Clayburh the other Democrat said the punishment did not fit the crime committed by Sinclair a massive company that took in close to $3 billion last year in sales.

The chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai, who is Republican, fired back saying a fine of $82 million would be an unprecedented one. He noted that Sinclair’s fine was close to twice as high per violation of any the FCC has levied previously.

The Democrats wanted to charge Sinclair over 11 times more for each violation than the previous record at the FCC.

For over a decade, Sinclair has had a big influence in the policies of the Republicans and the party’s politicians, including President Donald Trump. For example, Sinclair was criticized for airing interviews with then-candidates Donald Trump without commentary.

The reach of Sinclair is significant. The company is the biggest owner of local television stations in the U.S., operating close to 200 television stations, and it wants to become bigger with its recent bid to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.