SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $13.4 million fine after CBS affiliate KUTV failed to identify paid programming for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation as advertising.
The Salt Lake City station, owned by Sinclair, produced news story-like programming for local news broadcasts and longer 30-minute TV programs for the foundation but did not properly identify them as ads, according to the FCC.
The ads aired more than 1,700 times in 2016 across 64 Sinclair-owned TV stations and also for 13 other stations not owned by the company, the FCC stated.
KUTV news director Michael Garber, who was hired after the disputed stories ran, declined comment Thursday, deferring to a statement issued by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
The Huntsman Cancer Foundation, founded by billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr. and his wife, raises funds for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a cancer research center and hospital in Salt Lake City.
The Huntsman Cancer Foundation was not responsible for how Sinclair presented these ads, said the foundation's president, Susan Sheehan, in an email. "Please understand that this error was outside of the control of Huntsman Cancer Foundation," she said.
The FCC's two Democratic commissioners dissented from the penalty on Sinclair, saying it was too small. Republicans are in the majority of the agency's leadership.
Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, has 30 days to contest the proposed fine or pay it.
"Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error," Sinclair said in a statement Thursday, adding that it would contest the fine.4 comments on this story
Sinclair is awaiting regulatory approval for its proposed takeover of rival Tribune Media. The Justice Department and the FCC must approve the deal. Critics who tend to oppose media mergers say the Republican-controlled FCC has paved the way for such TV industry consolidation by relaxing ownership rules for broadcasters.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is one of the country's largest owners of TV stations. It pays networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox for the national news, shows and sports it airs on those stations and airs local news shows.