FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation over $3.9 billion media deal

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai
Inspector General Conducting Probe of Timing of FCC Actions and Sinclair Deal
Author

17 February, 2018

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is being probed by the agency's inspector general about whether he inappropriately favored a conservative-leaning broadcast company, according to a lawmaker.

Such a deal was only possible under media ownership rules overseen by the FCC because the UHF discount rule enabled Sinclair to remove a significant number of its TV stations from the formula used to calculate whether it has too much influence in America's media landscape.

Pallone and Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, wrote to FCC inspector general David Hunt in November asking him to investigate whether there was "inappropriate coordination" between Pai's office and Sinclair.

The FCC's inspector general is conducting an investigation into a series of FCC actions previous year, and how they benefited Sinclair Broadcast Group in the midst of seeking regulatory approval for its acquisition of Tribune Media.

Advocacy group Free Press and other groups today called on Pai "to recuse himself from all decisions related to the Sinclair Broadcast Group's proposed takeover of Tribune Media".

Democrats and public interest groups have questioned the timing of the rule changes, as well as Pai's meetings with representatives of the company.

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FCC spokespeople were not available to comment on the status of that investigation or what the threshold for investigating a complaint is, though the FCC web site outlines the factors the IG considers in agreeing to investigate.

"Any claim that Chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless", Pai's office also said at the time.

Most believe the industry regulations were repealed largely to help the Sinclair-Tribune deal go through since they do not serve to benefit the public at all.

At the heart of the issue is an unusual decision by the FCC back in April - just three months into Pai's chairmanship - in which the federal regulator brought back a rule that was previously discarded.

The extent of the investigation is unclear, as is whatever could result.

However, the FCC's two Democratic commissioners previously argued that the fine - for Sinclair violating sponsorship identification rules - should have been substantially larger. Recent filings have suggested that Sinclair may be seeking waivers under a new FCC rule that would allow common ownership of more than one top-four station in a market on a case by case basis.


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