broadcaster liability for sponsored program

The FCC, apparently not in a holiday mood, yesterday released a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $13,376,200 fine against Sinclair Broadcast group for alleged violations of the sponsorship identification requirements of Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the FCC rules. The FCC alleges that program segments contained in news broadcasts of certain Sinclair stations and certain program-length reports featured stories about the Huntsman Cancer Institute which were not tagged as being sponsored – even though they were broadcast as part of a contract that required that Sinclair air advertising for the Institute and develop programming about the Institute’s activities.

While the amount of the fine is large given the thousands of alleged broadcasts missing the sponsorship tags, the Commission’s basis for the fines are not new. The FCC has previously fined stations for news segments that were sold as part of a commercial package and aired without sponsorship identification tags (see our article here.)  Accepting any consideration, even video footage, from a commercial entity, can be seen by the FCC as consideration requiring sponsorship identification. See, for instance, our article here about one such case. The stand-alone programs that Sinclair argued were identified as having been sponsored were found wanting by the FCC as, while the fact that the programs were sponsored was made clear, the actual sponsor’s name was not explicitly stated in the announcement. The Commission rejected claims that the visual depiction of the Institute’s logo that was shown visually just before the sponsorship announcement, and a welcome from the announcer thanking the audience for joining in the broadcast “from the Huntsman Cancer Institute,” were sufficient to notify the audience as to the sponsor of the broadcast. As in cases we wrote about here and here, the FCC takes a hard line on these cases, requiring that the name of the sponsor, and the fact that they sponsored the programming be presented clearly so that any viewer will know who is sponsoring a broadcast program.
Continue Reading Proposed $13,376,200 Fine Illustrates FCC Concern over Sponsorship Identification Issues

Politico ran a story last week, indicating that a number of radio talk show hosts were paid to endorse, during their shows, certain causes and groups that might be of interest to their listeners.  The article suggests that the endorsements included live read commercials, as well as other comments made during the course of the program, as asides or during discussions of the issues of the day.  While we have not reviewed any of these programs, and have no idea if the story is accurate or how any paid mentions were handled during the program, radio stations do need to be cautious in this area, and consider the sponsorship identification issues that may be raised by such conduct.  And this consideration is not just in connection with political talk programs – but wherever any on-air talent receives consideration for making a plug for a product or service on the station.

This issue has already been a big deal on the video side of the media house, with both broadcasters and cable companies having been fined for including material in their programs without disclosing that they had received consideration for the inclusion of the material.  Recently, we wrote about two TV stations who were fined by the FCC for broadcasting "video news releases", where the stations broadcast content from third parties which was deemed to have a promotional message included for the third party’s product, where the station did not specifically disclose that the video material had been provided at no charge to the station.  The provision of the tape alone was deemed to be consideration.  Almost four years ago, we wrote about another station that was hit with a fine when a syndicated TV talk show host was revealed to have been receiving government money to promote a government program (No Child Left Behind), was promoting that government program during his show, and not mentioning that he had received this consideration.  The station was fined – even though they did not produce the program, as they had not inquired about whether any sort of consideration had been received by the host.  The Communications Act puts the burden on stations to reveal sponsors when consideration has been paid for the airing of any programming, and the FCC has said that this burden requires that the station take efforts to make sure that all programming – even that coming from syndicators – complies with the rules.   


Continue Reading Radio Talkers Paid to Endorse Causes During Their Shows? What Should Stations Do?