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Sinclair to Pay $48 Million FCC Fine to Resolve Multiple Investigations

The penalty is the largest for a broadcaster in FCC history

Sinclair Broadcast Group will pay a $48 million fine to the FCC to resolve a series of investigations into the station group, the commission announced Wednesday.

The $48 million is the largest in FCC history for a broadcaster, and more than double the $24 million paid by Univision in 2007.

The FCC said it closes an investigation into the company’s disclosure of information relating to its proposed acquisition of stations owned by Tribune Media. The agreement also closes investigations into whether the company has met its obligations to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith and its failure to identify the sponsor of content it produced and supplied to both Sinclair and non-Sinclair television stations.

“Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “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.”

In January, Sinclair settled its lawsuit from Tribune Media, stemming from the two companies’ failed $3.9 billion merger in 2018.

Under the terms of the settlement, Sinclair will pay $60 million to Nexstar, which bought Tribune in 2019, and will transfer control of the WDKY station that serves the Lexington, Kentucky, market. Sinclair and Nexstar also “modified an existing agreement regarding carriage of certain of the Company’s digital networks by stations acquired by Nexstar in connection with the Tribune acquisition,” according to an SEC filing on Monday.

Tribune, which first agreed to a $3.9 billion sale to Sinclair in 2017, terminated the agreement a year later and sued Sinclair for breach of contract. Tribune accused Sinclair of engaging in unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with the Department of Justice and the FCC over regulatory requirements, refusing to sell stations in the markets as required to obtain approval and proposing aggressive divestment structures and related-party sales that were either rejected outright or posed a high risk of rejection and delay.

“Sinclair is pleased with the resolution announced today by the FCC and to be moving forward. We thank the FCC staff for their diligence in reaching this resolution. Sinclair is committed to continue to interact constructively with all of its regulators to ensure full compliance with applicable laws rules and regulations,” said Sinclair’s president and CEO Chris Ripley on Wednesday.