Inspector General Conducting Probe of Timing of FCC Actions and Sinclair Deal
17 February, 2018, 00:09 | Author: Samuel Sharp
Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to run the agency by President Trump, the FCC has repeatedly pushed for policy changes to make it easier for broadcasters to amass greater ownership of media properties.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation by the agency's independent watchdog over decisions that benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.
Shortly after that rule change, Sinclair announced plans to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. The New York Timesreported last August that Pai and his aides were in communication with Sinclair executives more than a few times, and Pai met with Sinclair's executive chairman just days before starting at the FCC. "It was unclear the extent of the inspector general's investigation or when it might conclude, but the inquiry puts a spotlight on Mr. Pai's decisions and whether there had been coordination with the company".
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".
The deal was made possible by the new set of rules which is a little quick, and the FCC's inspector general is reportedlyinvestigating 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.
But Pai said the FCC review of Sinclair's purchase was by the book and there's nothing new about his push for deregulation since he has always been an advocate of loosening restrictions on media companies' ability to consolidate and buy up competitors.
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".
But the reason that the FCC had focused on JSAs and insisted on giving them special scrutiny was because Sinclair Broadcasting had used the arrangement for more than two decades to drive small television stations out of business and expand into new markets.
When the repeals were passed, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley called Pai's easing of the regulations "groundbreaking". At the time there were only three FCC Commissioners and one, Mignon Clyburn, voted against the proposal.
The Sinclair-Tribune merger is still under review by the FCC and the Department of Justice.
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