Sinclair Gets Hit with Massive $48 Million Fine, The Largest Ever Given to a Broadcaster by the FCC




Update: Sinclair has issued a statement about the decision: “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 the resolution. Sinclair is committed to continue to interact constructively with all of its regulators to ensure full compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.” -Chris Ripley, President/CEO, Sinclair Broadcast Group

Sinclair Broadcast Group will pay a $48 million fine to the FCC, resolving three government investigations surrounding the broadcaster’s failed acquisition of Tribune Media in 2018. This will be the largest penalty ever paid by a broadcaster.

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

When the merger fell through, we reported that Tribune filed a lawsuit against Sinclair, saying that the broadcasting group “committed to use its reasonable best efforts to obtain regulatory approval as promptly as possible,” but instead “in an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell, [it] engaged in unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with [federal regulators].”

Sinclair then counter sued, saying “Today, we filed our response to Tribune’s complaint, along with a counterclaim against Tribune for breaching the merger agreement. As described in our filing, we fully complied with our obligations under the merger agreement and worked tirelessly to close the transaction. The Company looks forward to vigorously defending against Tribune’s claims and pursuing our own claim.”

Nearly a year later, in June 2019, the FCC announced the investigations into Sinclair’s mishandling of what would have been a $3.9 billion deal to acquire Tribune. The civil penalty that came from those investigations addresses Sinclair’s failure to disclose information about the proposed acquisition, and the investigation into whether Sinclair had met obligations to negotiate retransmission consent agreements.

Pai openly rejected the idea that Sinclair should have its licenses revoked, saying “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.”

The FCC notes that this penalty is twice the prior record for a broadcaster, which was the $24 million paid by Univision in 2007.

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