WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced a $48-million fine against Sinclair Broadcast Group, the conservative broadcast conglomerate that in 2018 failed in its attempt to take ownership of dozens of Tribune Media television stations.
The penalty is part of a consent decree that closes three FCC investigations into the broadcaster, which gave up on its takeover bid after the agency found Sinclair misled it and conducted itself with a “lack of candor” — a violation of FCC rules — in seeking official approval for the deal.
When announcing today’s fine, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai suggested that he was defending the First Amendment against “those who, for transparently political reasons, demand that we revoke Sinclair’s licenses” — a jab at Free Press and its allies, who forcefully opposed the massive broadcast merger.
Free Press President and Co-CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
“Sinclair’s long record of lying to and misleading the Federal Communications Commission has caught up with it yet again. We applaud the FCC for taking action — after years of looking the other way and bending the rules to benefit Sinclair — though the penalty should have been much steeper.
“Let’s not forget that these are the public airwaves, and Sinclair has no special right to broadcast on them. Sinclair has abused its control of local-TV stations from coast to coast, inserting right-wing propaganda into local newscasts and turning local journalists into puppets for its political agenda.
“While we appreciate the FCC’s action today, we can’t help but notice that Chairman Pai seems all too eager to turn the page and get back to business as usual. In announcing today’s fine, Pai went out of his way to sarcastically reassure all of us that the First Amendment still applies at the FCC and that Sinclair’s licenses are safe. The First Amendment part is welcome news, as his agency’s constitutional commitments seem to waver depending on the day of the week and who’s asking.
“Yet this shouldn’t be the end of the discussion about Sinclair’s bad behavior. We never demanded that the FCC consider action against Sinclair’s licenses for any political reason. Sinclair constantly breaks the law, violates the FCC’s ownership rules and fails to meet the public-interest obligations that broadcasters agree to uphold in exchange for their use of the public airwaves. And we did so — as even Chairman Pai concedes — because the company routinely lies to the agency.”