FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Faces Probe Over Sinclair-Tribune Deal

Ajit Pai will be investigated by Federal Communications Commission's inspector general to check if he favored Sinclair Broadcast Group.


Ajit Pai, the Indian American chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is reportedly under investigation by the regulator’s inspector general for changing rules for the broadcast TV ownership, which made it possible for the Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire the Tribune Media group.

The company was valued at $3.9 billion, plus Sinclair would assume $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Pai, who has been criticized for his free market policies and who gained the ire of the nation for rescinding net neutrality, is said to have changed the rules regarding the maximum amount of ownership of local TV markets that one single entity could possess.

Committees in the House and Senate have called for an investigation over Pai’s reported contact with Sinclair executives.

“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the FCC, said in the statement to the New York Times. “I am grateful to the FCC’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”

The investigation was launched at the end of 2017, and had been previously undisclosed, the NYT reported Pallone as saying. They are investigating if the rules were rescinded in time to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.

Public interest groups and Democratic lawmakers oppose the Sinclair-Tribune deal since it would reduce the number of divergent voices in media. The Sinclair group requires use of pre-recorded “must run” news segments that local TV stations have to play and have a strong partisan tone. The pro-Republican group reportedly also made a deal with the Trump campaign to promote him.

Pallone also wants the inspector general to check if there was “inappropriate coordination” over the Sinclair deal and whether they violated transparency rules by using private email and social media accounts, according to Verge.

The deal still has not been approved. In January 2018, the FCC delayed the approval, saying it requires more time to evaluate the pro-Republican group’s plan to divest assets to maintain the cap of owning local TV stations.

Pai has been criticized and even received threats for repealing net neutrality, which prevented telecom companies from charging differentially for their services. In a recent report, the FCC has indicated that net neutrality helped in broadband deployment. However, the repeal doesn’t take place for another two months. He against faced criticism in February 2018 for taking credit for a policy that has not been implemented yet.

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