FCC’s Dems Slam Sinclair Consent Decree
Democratic FCC Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel released statements today blasting the FCC Republican majority’s decision to settle charges against Sinclair for allegedly lying to the FCC about the station group’s effort to acquire Tribune in 2017.
Starks called the $48 million settlement, which covers two other rules infractions, “bad law, bad precedent and bad policy.”
In agreeing to the settlement, said Rosenworcel, the majority ignores the FCC’s own rules and bends facts to assist Sinclair “with sweeping its past digressions under the rug.”
Both commissioners voted against the consent decree that imposed reporting requirements on Sinclair as well as the fine.
The principal charge against Sinclair was that it lied to the FCC — lacked candor, in FCC parlance — in proposing to spin off three stations in Houston, Dallas and Chicago from its proposed merger with Tribune to comply with station ownership limits.
According to Rosenworcel, Sinclair misled the FCC by saying it was not the “real-party-in-interest” in the companies to which it was selling the stations.
“As the FCC has long acknowledged, honesty with the agency is a foundational requirement for a license,” she said. “Full and clear disclosure of all material facts is essential to the efficient administration of the agency’s licensing process.
“Moreover, an inquiry into misrepresentation and lack of candor is inherently an assessment of whether a licensee possesses the requisite character qualification to continue to hold a license.”
According to Rosenworcel, FCC rules prohibit settlements involving a broadcasters’ basic character qualifications. “Yet here the agency addresses material misrepresentations behind closed doors and then summarily dismisses them in a consent decree.
“Doing so is a clear end run around this rule. Why are we violating our own rules to assist this company with the termination of an investigation?”
Starks said the public deserves a full hearing on Sinclair behavior. “What is clear is that by foregoing a real investigation, we run the risk of sending a message to future applicants that they can get away with almost anything if they can write a big enough check, even without admitting to any wrongdoing.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”