FCC Chairman under investigation for relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting

Ajit Pai chairman of the FCC

Tom Brenner New York Times File 2017 Ajit Pai chairman of the FCC

The investigation was reportedly launched in December, and it is unclear how far along it has come or when it will conclude.

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.

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 union of Sinclair and Tribune would create the nation's biggest television broadcaster, reaching 7 out of 10 US homes.

Critics of the deal have argued the FCC revised its rules - which prevented a single company from controlling too many broadcast stations and from controlling more than a single broadcaster in the same market - because of Sinclair's friendly treatment of President Donald Trump.

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Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. owns Little Rock's KATV, an ABC affiliate.

This loosening of broadcast-ownership rules came after press reports that Pai had conducted meetings with Sinclair executives days after the November 8, 2016 presidential election, and then again off FCC grounds days before Trump appointed him to chair the FCC. For many years, chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations - one of which dates back to 1975.

"Given that the FCC under Chairman Pai's leadership recently proposed a $13 million fine against Sinclair, the largest fine in history for a violation of the Commission's sponsorship identification rules, the accusation that he has shown favoritism toward the company is absurd", the agency representative told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Sinclair blamed human error and said it will fight the fine. They said, "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". Pai met with Sinclair executives before his appointment as chairman and communicated with them several times after that.

Since taking over as chair in January 2017, Ajit Pai has made big play of his effort to cut back rules in an effort to bring back "light touch" regulation. Frank Pallone, wants to know if Pai's meetings with Sinclair executives in the weeks before the rule change were proper.

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Pai is no stranger to the communications world. The FCC's new rules had made that deal possible. He has refused to turn over those communications to Congress.

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 FCC officials told the aides that they would open an investigation, according to four people with knowledge of the meetings.

An investigation could take a year or more, sources said.

The aides, all of whom work for Democratic lawmakers, would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private.

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