Published: Sat, February 17, 2018
Finance | By Gustavo Carr

FCC Chair Ajit Pai Reportedly Being Probed by Commission Inspector General

FCC Chair Ajit Pai Reportedly Being Probed by Commission Inspector General

Such a deal was only possible under media ownership rules overseen by the FCC because the UHF discount rule enabled Sinclair to remove a significant number of its TV stations from the formula used to calculate whether it has too much influence in America's media landscape. He told the New York Times, which first reported on the Hunt probe, that it "could cast a cloud over the whole [merger] process".

"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting", Pallone said in a statement.

Under the old formula, Sinclair, whose stations reached 38 percent of the country before the Tribune deal, would certainly have been blocked from making the acquisition.

It was unclear as to the extent of the inspector general's investigation or when it might conclude, but the inquiry puts a spotlight on Pai's decisions and whether there had been coordination with the company, the publication said. However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point.

Sinclair announced its merger with Tribune several weeks later. A union of Sinclair and Tribune would create the nation's biggest television broadcaster, reaching 7 out of 10 USA homes. But lawmakers are suspicious of a number of decisions that directly benefitted one media group - Sinclair Broadcasting.

In a shocking twist that absolutely no-one could have seen coming, former industry lobbyist, part-time man-child, and full-time FCC chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly under investigation by the FCC's internal watchdog.

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A coalition of public-interest groups, including CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press and MPower Change, have collected more than 400,000 petitions calling on the FCC to block the merger and investigate Chairman Pai's conduct.

Hart cited a proposed $13.4 million fine, levied in December against Sinclair for running paid programming without disclosing the sponsorship. Sinclair blamed human error and said it will fight the fine. "Considering 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 the reforms that the FCC has adopted". A previous investigation by the Times uncovered secret meetings between Pai, his staff and Sinclair executives in the weeks prior to Pai's appointment as chairman.

Several other actions by Pai have also raised suspicions that he is acting to "improperly benefit" Sinclair. He also moved the Commission to pass new rules that benefited Sinclair's technology patents.

Consolidation on this scale is conceivable only following rule changes a year ago by Pai's FCC. If true this might cause trouble for Mr. Pai, but I'm not sure this wasn't anything but good lobbying on the part of Sinclair.

The lawmakers also asked for communications between Pai's office and the White House. 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.

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