FCC head Ajit Pai being investigated for collusion with Sinclair Broadcasting

A watchdog within the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is probing the panel's Chairman, Ajit Pai.

A spokesman for Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the inspector general's probe is on the actions of Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

"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 grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has made a decision to take up this important investigation", the lawmaker added.

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. Specifically, the panel has removed impediments to the company's plans to purchase Tribune Media; an acquisition that would give the broadcaster access to roughly three-quarters of USA households.

The proposed deal was only made possible thanks to rule changes proposed and passed by Pai, not all of which fitted his "light touch" template.

The spokesman said that Pai has for years called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations to keep up with modern times, so that the more recent actions are just a reflection of his long-held views.

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Free Press has raised serious concerns that the FCC chairman was acting deliberately and with extreme bias to lift any public-interest safeguards that would prevent the massive merger from being approved.

Pai's office declined to comment on the report, but the chairman has denied his deregulatory agenda was meant to benefit any one company.

Throughout his first year as chairman, Pai rolled back a series of media ownership restrictions, some of which directly benefitted Sinclair's merger.

However, the FCC's two Democratic commissioners previously argued that the fine - for Sinclair violating sponsorship identification rules - should have been substantially larger.

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

The FCC and Sinclair didn't respond to USA TODAY requests for comment.

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.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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