The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is being probed by the agency's inspector general about whether he inappropriately favored a conservative-leaning broadcast company, according to a lawmaker.
Shortly after one rule change early in Pai's tenure, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced plans to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting", Pallone said. The New York Timesreported last August that Pai and his aides were in communication with Sinclair executives more than a few times, and Pai met with Sinclair's executive chairman just days before starting at the FCC.
"I am grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has made a decision to take up this important investigation", the lawmaker added.
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.
Pallone said those rule changes - followed by the almost $4 billion deal - concerned him, which prompted his push for an investigation.
The consumer group Free Press said that in light of the investigation, Pai should recuse himself from all decisions related to the Sinclair-Tribune deal. Any claim that chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless. If the deal goes through, Sinclair will reach more than 70% of US households.
When the repeals were passed, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley called Pai's easing of the regulations "groundbreaking".
In the letter, the two representatives said the media ownership rule changes "have raised serious concerns about whether Chairman Pai's actions comply with the FCC's mandate to be independent".
But the size of the transaction would not have been possible had the FCC not voted along party lines in April to restore a rule that allows companies to "discount" the reach of their UHF holdings.
Likely if and when Justice signs off on that, or its modification of Sinclair's modification, it will need to be refiled with the FCC and put out for public comment. "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".
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