The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that particular airings of commentator Armstrong Williams’ plugs for the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative violated sponsorship-identification rules and thus slapped a pair of broadcasters with the first fines — totaling $76,000 — in the 2004 scandal.
Sonshine Broadcasting and Sinclair Broadcast group were hit Thursday for $40,000 and $36,000, respectively. A source said Sinclair will not pay the fine and instead will challenge it in court.
Williams made several appearances on television three years ago touting the initiative without disclosing the fact that the Dept. of Education had paid him to make the plugs. Following news reports of the financial relationship between Williams and the government, watchdog group Free Press demanded an FCC investigation. “Several thousand other” complainants similarly wrote the agency, the FCC said.
While most criticism fell on Williams and the DOE for not disclosing their relationship, the FCC cited Sonshine on Thursday for having accepted $100 for airing a total of 10 times five separate episodes of “The Right Side With Armstrong Williams,” in which he promoted the initiative. Sonshine argued that the relatively low amount of money did not trigger sponsorship-ID requirements. The commission disagreed and applied the standard fine of $4,000 for each airing.
Nine Sinclair stations aired an episode of “America’s Black Forum,” in which Williams again touted No Child Left Behind, but Sinclair was not paid for the broadcasts. Still, the FCC fined Sinclair for the nine airings, noting that the public affairs program came from Williams’ own production company, and since it dealt with political matters, disclosure of its provenance was required.