FCC Proposes $3.4M In Fines For Sinclair, Others For Alleged Kids' TV Ad Limits Violations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed levying nearly $3.4 million in fines on 21 TV stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar Media Group, Cunningham Broadcasting and other broadcast companies for allegedly violating the agency’s Children’s Programming Commercial rules by exceeding limits on advertising. 

In its notice of apparent liability for forfeiture, issued Wednesday, the FCC said that the broadcast licensees “apparently willfully and repeatedly violated rules limiting commercial matter in children's programming.” 

The agency recommended the largest fine for Sinclair, totaling $2.652 million. 

“We find that our proposed forfeitures are warranted as a result of Sinclair’s lengthy history of prior offenses for similar violations; the extent, gravity, and circumstances of the violations here; and Sinclair’s ability to pay,” the agency wrote. “Under these additional considerations, we begin by taking into account the fact that in the last 17 years Sinclair has been fined or admonished 11 times for program-length commercial violations, establishing an extensive history of prior offenses. In addition, the circumstances and extent of the apparent violations here are particularly troubling because an experienced television licensee apparently committed them. Over the course of slightly more than a month, not a single employee noticed that at least one—and sometimes more—Hot Wheels commercials were airing during a Hot Wheels program.54 This is a textbook violation of Commission rules that have been in place for more than 30 years.” 

The Children’s Television Act of 1990 limits commercials to 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. If an ad for a product is shown during a show with content associated with that product, the FCC considers the entire show to be a program-length commercial.

In this case, the broadcasters exceeded the limits through multiple airings of 30-minute “Team Hot Wheels” shows that included ads for a Hot Wheels Super Ultimate Garage playset.

Adherence to the rules is one factor weighed when the FCC considers renewing broadcast licenses.

In November 2020, Sinclair voluntarily informed the FCC that 84 of its stations had aired the show and the branded toy ads on 11 occasions between November 10, 2018, and December 15, 2018. Another Sinclair station, WABM in Birmingham, Alabama, aired the ads during seven episodes of the Hot Wheels show.

Other broadcasters also reported such violations. All claimed that these were inadvertent, and said the ads were pulled once the violations were discovered.

Some non-Sinclair licensees pointed out that the commercials were embedded in the programming, which was provided to them by Sinclair, but the FCC said that this did not lessen their responsibility.

“It is not always easy to be a mom right now.  I know, because I am one,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement released along with the notice on Wednesday. “The screens around us are multiplying, and it is hard to keep tabs on what our kids are consuming. 

“But in the Children’s Television Act, Congress sought to ensure that broadcasting would remain a special place for kids’ content,” she continued. “The law put clear limits on advertising on children’s programming. Those limits were ignored here, where broadcasters mixed toy commercials with content and violated our rules. This Notice of Apparent Liability is the result.  I thank my colleagues for supporting this enforcement action because every parent wants to know their kids are safe and with so many ways to watch, honoring the principles in the Children’s Television Act is essential.”

In addition to Sinclair, the agency proposed fines of $26,000 per each on six Nexstar stations, citing, as with Sinclair, the “relatively extensive” period during which violations allegedly occurred, the amount of the commerical overages time, the size of the company, and other factors. 

Smaller fines — $20,000 per station — were proposed for Cunningham, Deerfield Media , CoCom Media of Illinois, HSH, Manhan Media, Mercury Broadcasting, Mitts Telecasting Co., MPS Media, Nashville License Holdings, New Age Media, Second Generation of Iowa, Waitt Broadcasting and WTVH License Inc.

The companies must either pay the fines within 30 days of the notice or file statements requesting reductions or cancellations of the fines.


3 comments about "FCC Proposes $3.4M In Fines For Sinclair, Others For Alleged Kids' TV Ad Limits Violations".
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  1. Ben B from Retired, September 22, 2022 at 8:55 p.m.

    This is an outdated rule and Sinclair should take the FCC to court and not pay the fine as neither Sinclair or Nexstar did anything wrong FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is abusing her power if I was on the FCC I would've voted against the fine and would get rid of the rule. Which rule needs to be removed as I said it is outdated.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, September 26, 2022 at 8:09 p.m.

    Ben, please explain how a chairperson enforcing the broadcasting rules (in fact any rules or laws) is abusing their power.

    Logic by extension implies that you would perceive that a policeman who pulls you over for excessive speeding and fines you is abusing their power simply because they were enforcing a speed-limit that you disagree with.

  3. Ben B from Retired replied, September 26, 2022 at 9:30 p.m.

    It is an outdated rule that needs to go Jessica is wrong and abuses her power if I was Sinclair & Nexstar I'd not pay the fine and sue the FCC so the rule isn't enforced. This is the rule why there aren't any more cartoons on broadcast TV another reason why the rule most go which NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX & The CW will not put cartoons back on Sat mornings which they should and not that nature & E/I crap that is now aired on Sat morning.

    Jessica has it out for Sinclair along with the Dems on the FCC and showing bias as well because Sinclair is conservative and is also a political hit piece and that is wrong, Sinclair could prove it in a court of law if they sue The FCC and that outdated rule.

    If I was over the speed limit by a lot I'd get fined but I follow the speed limit and never have gotten pulled over. Police can be nice and not have to fine you and you get off with just a warning.

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