FCC inspector general investigating chairman over Sinclair

FCC inspector general investigating chairman over Sinclair report

The FCC's Inspector General late past year agreed to open an investigation into FCC chairman Ajit Pai's handling of the Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune merger and related media ownership deregulatory decisions.

A spokesman for Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the inspector general's probe is on the actions of Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

Before the Net Neutrality repeal that made him a household name, Pai worked to increase caps on broadcast TV ownership mere weeks before the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of a vast amount of local TV stations across the country, announced a $3.9 billion dollar deal to acquire Tribune Media. He said he was appreciative to the FCC's inspector general that he has thought of taking up this vital investigation.

One month later Sinclair announced it would pay $3.9bn for rival Tribune Media and its 42 television stations dotted across the U.S., adding to its 173 existing stations.

The question for the Inspector General: Was Pai's push for the new rules improper and were they timed to benefit Sinclair. According to the New York Times, the FCC's internal watchdog is now investigating whether there was collusion between Pai and Sinclair over the process to change the rules.

Throughout his first year as chairman, Pai rolled back a series of media ownership restrictions, some of which directly benefitted Sinclair's merger.

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In November, Pai's office told Ars that the request for an investigation "appears to be part of many Democrats' attempt to target one particular company because of its perceived political views".

Sinclair already is the largest US broadcaster with 191 stations.

However, the FCC's two Democratic commissioners previously argued that the fine - for Sinclair violating sponsorship identification rules - should have been substantially larger. At the time, a spokesman for the FCC representing Pai called the allegations "baseless" and alluded to it being a partisan play by those who oppose chairman.

Free Press has raised serious concerns that the FCC chairman was acting deliberately and with extreme bias to lift any public-interest safeguards that would prevent the massive merger from being approved.

The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take.

Likely if and when Justice signs off on that, or its modification of Sinclair's modification, it will need to be refiled with the FCC and put out for public comment.

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