FCC inspector general investigating chairman over Sinclair

Ajit Pai

The Federal Communications Commission inspector general will investigate whether its chairman was biased in favor of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc, which is seeking approval from the watchdog for a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co, a member of Congress said on Thursday. Notably, the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair. The investigation is focused on Pai's push to change broadcast ownership rules, which have cleared the way for Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.

The Inspector General, David Hunt, is thought be looking at the possibility that Pai's decisions were coordinated with Sinclair executives, the Times reports.

The IG has not confirmed whether there is an investigation. "The Chairman has repeatedly refused to answer these inquiries, raising questions about whether he is appropriately following Commission rules", they told Hunt in their November request for an investigation.

This story was updated at 10:56 p.m.

"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.

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

Sinclair has proposed buying 42 Tribune stations in 33 markets in a $3.9 billion deal that would give the conservative-leaning broadcaster a presence in major markets including NY and Chicago.

Political media company Politico, citing unnamed sources, reported in December 2016 that Trump's campaign made a deal with Sinclair to get favorable coverage in exchange for more access to Trump.

"If the merger is approved, the conservative broadcaster would be able to air politically biased programming to more than 70 percent of the United States population", Free Press said today. Weeks later, Sinclair announced a almost $4 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media - an acquisition that wouldn't have been possible a month earlier.

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

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