FCC Inspector General Investigating Sinclair Rulings

17 February, 2018, 01:38 | Author: Natasha Holloway
  • Rep. Frank Pallone

The internal watchdog is reportedly looking into whether Pai and his closest aides inappropriately supported media ownership rule changes in order to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting, a conservative media conglomerate that was ready to, and ultimately purchased, Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.

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.

A spokesman for Pai said the accusations were "baseless" and noted that the FCC fined Sinclair for deceptive advertising last December, after the stations aired ads for a cancer institute that were created to look like news reports during newscasts. According to the New York Times, the FCC Inspector General David L. Hunt has been investigating any wrongdoing for some time now, but the investigation wasn't made public until Thursday. For many years, chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations - one of which dates back to 1975.

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.

The Federal Communications Commission previous year updated its broadcasting ownership regulations just weeks before Sinclair Broadcasting announced its plan to purchase Tribune Media. "The investigation will also look into whether Pai and his aides improperly coordinated with Sinclair on those rule changes".

"The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given 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 his proposals", Hart said. One meeting, with Sinclair's executive chairman, took place days before Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, took over as FCC chairman. Following today's news, these groups are also calling on Pai to recuse himself from all agency matters involving Sinclair.

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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.

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

"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 and to the New York Times, which first reported of Pallone's confirmation of the investigation. He has refused to turn over those communications to Congress.

An FCC spokesman said they had no comment.

The New Jersey lawmaker, Democratic Rep.

FCC spokespeople were not available to comment on the status of that investigation or what the threshold for investigating a complaint is, though the FCC web site outlines the factors the IG considers in agreeing to investigate. 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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