FCC Chair Under Investigation By Own Agency, Says Report

FCC Chair Under Investigation By Own Agency, Says Report

The IG will "investigate whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his aides improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in the company's attempt to purchase Tribune Media", Pallone's office said in a press release today.

This loosening of broadcast-ownership rules came after press reports that Pai had conducted meetings with Sinclair executives days after the November 8, 2016 presidential election, and then again off FCC grounds days before Trump appointed him to chair 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".

"For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C.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 USA, adding to its 173 existing stations.

Pallone's spokesman confirmed a report in the New York Times, which first reported the FCC inspector general's probe into Pai's actions on rules affecting the proposed deal in which Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest United States broadcast television group, is seeking to buy Tribune Media Co.

Pai has maintained that the rule changes were under consideration before the Sinclair merger.

Free Press wants "Pai and any other FCC staff subject to this inquiry [to] recuse themselves from all dealings related to Sinclair's proposed takeover of Tribune Media", González said.

Sinclair's merger is still awaiting approval from the Justice Department and the FCC. The office of the FCC's nonpartisan inspector general didn't comment on "the existence or the nonexistence of an investigation" to The New York Times.

Pai has rolled back a number of decisions of his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, that he opposed and criticized at the time they were approved, including 2014 guidance on how the FCC would treat joint sales agreements and sharing arrangements between noncommonly owned stations; restoring the FCC's UHF discount; and two proposals scheduled for a vote this week (Nov. 16) - potentially eliminating or loosening some media ownership limits, and allowing for the rollout of ATSC 3.0 transmissions.

Some members of Congress have asked Pai for such communications, but he has not responded.

Both Sinclair and the FCC have declined to comment on the current investigation but called the original allegations "baseless". The FCC officials told the aides that they would open an investigation, according to four people with knowledge of the meetings.

The New Jersey lawmaker, Democratic Rep.

An investigation could take a year or more, sources said.

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 FCC in the spring said it would no longer count UHF stations in the formula. 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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