FCC investigating Ajit Pai over relationship with Sinclair

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is the object of an internal investigation into his handling of a politically sensitive broadcast merger

Before that purchase, Pai pushed for deregulatory moves, including the loosening of local ownership restrictions, that ended up benefiting Sinclair Broadcasting's purchase of the newspaper company.

Pai's office declined to comment on the report, but the chairman has denied his deregulatory agenda was meant to benefit any one company.

"I am grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has chose to take up this important investigation", the lawmaker added.

"For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations", the FCC spokesman said.

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

The Times said that, following Pai leading a charge for the FCC to approve rules allowing TV broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own last April, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media. Did Pai help Sinclair by deregulating as expected, or did Sinclair anticipate that deregulation and time its Tribune deal to capitalize on it.

"The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals", Hart said.

Last year, Pai sent a letter (PDF) responding to House Democrats' questions about the FCC's dealings with Sinclair and the White House.

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Critics of the deal have argued the FCC revised its rules - which prevented a single company from controlling too many broadcast stations and from controlling more than a single broadcaster in the same market - because of Sinclair's friendly treatment of President Donald Trump.

"I am particularly concerned about reports that chairman [Ajit] Pai may have coordinated with Sinclair to time a series of commission actions to benefit the company", Pallone said in a statement.

Sinclair's top lobbyist, a former FCC official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. He has refused to turn over those communications to Congress.

The New Jersey lawmaker, Democratic Rep.

"If the merger is approved, the conservative broadcaster would be able to air politically biased programming to more than 70 percent of the USA population", Free Press said today.

By bureaucratic practice, the FCC Inspector General does not confirm or deny potential or ongoing investigations.

The investigation shouldn't derail or slow the agency's review of its acquisition of Tribune, Bloomberg analyst Matthew Schettenhelm said in a note Thursday.

"The publicly available evidence suggests a pattern of abuse where Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump messages in exchange for policy favors from the Trump administration and its FCC chairman", Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica González said. The agency is waiting for Sinclair to propose divestitures that could resolve concerns about whether the enlarged company would exceed ownership caps, he said.

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