Sinclair fights payola/plugola charge


Television group owner Sinclair Broadcast Group is fighting an FCC Notice of Apparent Liability related to an appearance by pundit Armstrong Williams on at least one of its stations. Williams was found to have accepted cash from agencies in the Bush administration to use his television appearances to plug the No Child Left Behind program. The television show in question, says Sinclair, is not one of theirs, but rather is a program they aired via a syndication arrangement. They actually paid the producer of "America’s Black Forum," Uniworld Group Inc., for the rights to air the program. That would be the opposite of benefiting from Williams’ arrangement with the government.

Sinclair VP/General Counsel Barry Faber noted that this matter and the precedent it may set should be of concern to all broadcasters. "To our knowledge the FCC’s political disclosure rules have never before been used to fine a television station for airing a public affairs program because a paid guest on the program may have received payment from a third party with an interest in what that commentator had to say," said Faber, adding "It is simply unworkable and unreasonable to expect broadcasters to interrogate every guest who appears on a public affairs show produced by a third party in attempt to determine whether the views expressed were in any influenced by consideration received by the guest. We are hopeful that once the FCC understands the impossibility of avoiding the situation complained of in the NAL, the lack of knowledge by Sinclair about the underlying facts which prompted the NAL and the erroneous factual assumptions which apparently underlay the issuance of the NAL, that it will be rescinded."