FCC Chair Under Investigation By Own Agency, Says Report

Inspector General Conducting Probe of Timing of FCC Actions and Sinclair Deal

Inspector General Conducting Probe of Timing of FCC Actions and Sinclair Deal

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's delivers remarks during a hearing where the FCC took up the issue of net-neutrality, at the FCC on December 14, 2017 in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, lawmakers said Pai was under investigation for his ties to Sinclair Broadcasting.

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.

The office of FCC inspector general, which is a nonpartisan role that reports to the agency and regularly updates Congress on some investigations, said it would "not comment on the existence or the nonexistence of an investigation". On Thursday this week, Pallone appeared to confirm the story in two tweets in which he said: "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has chose to take up this important investigation".

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

With the UHF stations, a combined Sinclair-Tribune entity would reach 72 percent of the country.

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. The investigation is focused on whether or not there was any coordination between Pai, Sinclair and Trump. Did Pai help Sinclair by deregulating as expected, or did Sinclair anticipate that deregulation and time its Tribune deal to capitalize on it.

Under Pai's leadersip, the FCC has taken several steps to boost Sinclair's business interests.

She noted that Pai has always been a champion of updating its media ownership regulations.

As originally proposed, the deal would add 42 Tribune stations to the Sinclair empire, including stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver and several other top-20 markets. 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.

Pai is no stranger to the communications world. 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 FCC in the spring said it would no longer count UHF stations in the formula.

"We have strong concerns that the FCC's ongoing review of the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media may be tainted by a series of actions and events that raise questions about the independence and impartiality of the FCC", wrote the senators to FCC Inspector General David Hunt.

The aides, all of whom work for Democratic lawmakers, would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private.

In later conversations, FCC officials said that an investigation was underway, according to two other aides.

Information for this article was contributed by Todd Shields of Bloomberg News.

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