Published: Sat, February 17, 2018
Markets | By Josh Butler

FCC IG Agreed to Investigate Pai Handling of Sinclair-Tribune

FCC IG Agreed to Investigate Pai Handling of Sinclair-Tribune

"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 Thursday. The FCC inspector general's office doesn't always publish its findings, though they can be procured through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Most believe the industry regulations were repealed largely to help the Sinclair-Tribune deal go through since they do not serve to benefit the public at all. The investigation was reportedly launched in December, and it is unclear how far along it has come or when it will conclude.

Sinclair announced its merger with Tribune several weeks later. Public interest groups and Democratic lawmakers, including Pallone, are strongly opposed to the deal, arguing that it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news. A union of Sinclair and Tribune would create the nation's biggest television broadcaster, reaching 7 out of 10 USA homes.

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. But lawmakers are suspicious of a number of decisions that directly benefitted one media group - Sinclair Broadcasting.

"Any claim that Chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless", Pai's office also said at the time. What may have not been, however, is a mega media deal that Pai made possible a year ago.

"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 spokesman said in the report. Sinclair blamed human error and said it will fight the fine. "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". A previous investigation by the Times uncovered secret meetings between Pai, his staff and Sinclair executives in the weeks prior to Pai's appointment as chairman.

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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 top lobbyist, a former FCC official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules.

"The publicly available evidence suggests a pattern of abuse where Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump messages in exchange for policy favors from the Trump administration and its FCC chairman".

Pai is no stranger to the communications world.

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. He has refused to turn over those communications to Congress.

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