Congressman: FCC watchdog will probe chairman-Sinclair links


He thanked the FCC's inspector general for pursuing the investigation.

One month later Sinclair announced it would pay $3.9bn for rival Tribune Media and its 42 television stations dotted across the U.S., adding to its 173 existing stations. But lawmakers are suspicious of a number of decisions that directly benefitted one media group - Sinclair Broadcasting.

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. For many years, chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations - one of which dates back to 1975.

The New York Times reported the probe of Pai in an article published February 15.

The probe, which is expected to examine whether Pai and his aides improperly coordinated rule changes with Sinclair, could create problems for the pending approval of the $3.9 billion (roughly Rs. 24,900 crores) transaction.

Pallone also said the FCC's decision to allow the TV industry to transition to a new digital standard "could provide billions of dollars in licensing fees to Sinclair through its patent holdings" and a vote to change existing broadcast media ownership limits removed obstacles "to Sinclair increasing its reach beyond the Tribune merger proposal".

Attorneys general in four states - Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island - have come out in opposition to the merger, saying the bolstered Sinclair would have too much national power and could stifle points of view in local markets.

Trump reportedly discussed potential FCC rule changes in a meeting with Sinclair's executive chairman, and Pai or his staff "have met with Sinclair representatives on numerous occasions", Pallone and Cummings wrote to the IG in November.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation by the agency's independent watchdog over decisions that benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.

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

The inspector general's office has not confirmed the investigation.

"Any claim that Chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless", Pai's office also said at the time.

The aides, all of whom work for Democratic lawmakers, would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private. In an official investigation uncovered by The New York Times, it turns out that even top officials at the FCC have reason to believe that something wasn't right.

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 report wasn't made public until December 2017.

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