Armstrong Williams was famously embroiled in a “pay-for-say” controversy involving No Child Left Behind and the Bush administration. Now Sonshine Family Television’s WBPH-TV Bethlehem PA has been hit with a hefty and unrelated sponsorship fine involving Williams.
In a nutshell, Sonshine was paid $100 per episode to air five installments of “The Right Side with Armstrong Williams” two times each. This financial arrangement was not disclosed, and that is the genesis of the sponsorship identification violation finding by the FCC.
The original fine was $40K.
Sonshine had argued that the compensation was negligible; that it was unaware any identification was necessary; that this rule is unfairly applied to independent stations in a way that would not happen to network affiliates; that it made a good faith effort to abide by the rules and has an overall record of compliance; and that it can’t afford the fine.
The FCC was moved by only one of these – the good behavior argument.
In particular, it objected to the affiliate remark, noting that Sonshine gave no example to prove that affiliates are somehow immune from the rule. The FCC noted that a barter arrangement is fine when acquiring programming since both the station and the programmer receive value. It is different when a program buys access to the station. Sonshine may sell Williams the time, but must disclose the arrangement.
Sonshine provided tax forms; the FCC decided it was wealthy enough to pay the fine. It did reduce the fine, however, giving an $8K discount to $32K for prior good behavior.