FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement:
“Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable. 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.”
Pai didn’t specify what those “viewpoints” and “political reasons” are. But back in 2018, Sinclair got embroiled in a scandal after having dozens of local news anchors recite a script warning people about “fake news.”
Paying the penalty will also close investigations into Sinclair’s failure to identify sponsors for materials aired on its own and other TV stations, as well as into the way it negotiated shared programming with other broadcasters. Based on the agency’s release, $13 million of the total amount accounts for the fine it proposed for failing to disclose sponsorship of paid programming made to look like independently generated news coverage. The offending programs were aired during actual news programs or as 30-minute shows.
Sinclair seems to be pleased with the outcome despite having to pay a record-breaking fine. Company chief Chris Ripley said:
A statement from our CEO on today’s @FCC consent decree. pic.twitter.com/7lJtAChwxT
— Sinclair Broadcast Group (@WeAreSinclair) May 6, 2020