FCC Wants to Fine Sinclair Broadcasting $13 Million for Not Disclosing Paid Programming

Fine is the largest ever proposed for violating its sponsorship identification rules

The Federal Communications Commission wants to give Sinclair Broadcasting an expensive piece of coal this Christmas.

The FCC is proposing a $13.4 million fine against the largest owner of television stations in the U.S. for “apparently failing to make required disclosures in connection with programming sponsored by a third party.” It’s the largest fine the FCC has ever levied for violating its sponsorship identification rules.

The fine stems from last year, when an anonymous tipster told the Commission that Sinclair stations had been airing programming from the Huntsman Cancer Institute without disclosing the group was paying for the spots. After looking into it, the FCC found the cancer organization had been paying Sinclair to produce content “made to look like independently generated news coverage.”

Sinclair pushed back on the on Thursday, saying it was just a mistake.

“Sinclair proudly supports the Cancer Foundation and its educational mission. Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error,” the company said in a statement. “After working to reach a reasonable settlement, we are disappointed by this NAL, which we believe is unreasonable, given the circumstances of our case and the absence of any viewer harm. We disagree with the FCC’s action and intend to contest this unwarranted fine.”

The fine comes as Sinclair awaits the FCC’s decision on its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The two FCC’s two Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, have urged Chairman Ajit Pai to strike down the merger, which would give Sinclair a grip on 70 percent of the nation’s TV audience.

Clyburn and Rosenworcel had pushed for a fine of more than $80 million.

“Simply put, the ‘punishment does not fit the crime’ against a company that grossed more than $2.7 billion in revenue last year,” said Clyburn in a statement. “What we are talking about is an egregious violation of the Commission’s rules by a company that knows better.”

The $13 million fine pales in comparison to the largest FCC fine on record, however. Earlier this year, A $120 million fine was proposed against a Florida man that placed 97 million (!) robocalls in 2016.