Ajit Pai faces investigation into moves that benefit Sinclair Broadcasting

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

Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to run the agency by President Trump, the FCC has repeatedly pushed for policy changes to make it easier for broadcasters to amass greater ownership of media properties.

As a result, one such lawmaker, House Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) - who is a member of the congressional committee that oversees the FCC - wrote to the federal regulator's inspector general in November outlining his concerns and asked him to open a formal investigation.

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

"I am particularly concerned about reports that Chairman Pai may have coordinated with Sinclair to time a series of commission actions to benefit the company", he continued. The FCC inspector general's office doesn't always publish its findings, though they can be procured through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Pallone and Cummings pointed to the timing of decisions that impact Sinclair deals (such as its purchase of Bonten stations) and proposed deals (the Tribune acquisition), and said they wanted some answers.

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.

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 group suggested the existence of a "quid pro quo" relationship between FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Trump administration and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The deal would give Sinclair control over the vast majority of local TV stations, a prospect that is disturbing for anyone who enjoys diverse, locally-accountable news, rather than having content controlled by one powerful central firm.

The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take.

Consolidation on this scale is conceivable only following rule changes previous year by Pai's FCC.

Free Press is among several consumer organizations which have complained that FCC approval would enable Sinclair to air "politically biased programming" to more than 70 percent of the U.S. population.

Sinclair's merger is still awaiting approval from the Justice Department and the FCC.

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