Primarily, the big TV station group agreed to pay a fine of $48 million, levied by the FCC for three different actions.
This included the deception of an announced deal in 2017 to buy Tribune Media, specifically around "selling" TV stations to come in under federal guidelines. The FCC has an indirect limit on TV stations, in terms of the total percentage of U.S. household coverage: no more than 39%.
Another investigation, also from 2017: The FCC said 64 of 191 Sinclair stations aired paid-advertising segments as “news” more than 1,400 times -- which was also shared with 13 non-Sinclair stations — all without disclosing they were actually sponsored/advertising content.
In particular, the decision focused on news reports/programs for Utah-based Huntsman Cancer Institute -- content that would run anywhere from several minutes to 30 minutes in length. It was sponsored by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, according to the FCC, but never disclosed as such.
Separately, Sinclair TV stations, where TV newscasts have had a longtime conservative-news bent, have also been involved in other questionable promotional content that compromised the independence of its TV editorial news staffers.
Two years ago, 75 Sinclair TV stations read the exact same on-air promotion, word for word. The promos talked about combating “fake news” and stated certain news reports were "extremely dangerous to democracy.” The spots, according to news watchers, took the script directly from President Trump's words.
All this to boost advertising prospects and revenues.
For a few years now, local TV stations have been getting kicked around by all things digital. Total annual take of yearly linear TV dollars is now around $20 billion for its big Olympics/election periods, which arrives every two years.
But core TV advertising -- non-political TV marketing -- continues to suffer. (By its own account, digital advertising for local TV stations average around a slow-moving $1.5 billion a year, according to one estimate.)
In response, TV stations have been increasingly shifting their reliance on revenues to retransmission fees and the every-other-year political TV advertising schedule, since the latter can pre-empt core advertisers.
So what better way to gin up funds than to slip in new content — a one-sided "news story" about cancer treatment.
Talking about news that is “dangerous.” Consumers deserve better.