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FCC Chairman Pai under investigation for possible collusion with Sinclair

16 Feb, 2018

The New York Times reports that the FCC's inspector general is investigating possible collusion between Chairman Ajit Pai and Sinclair Broadcasting. In particular, the investigation will focus on whether the Chairman or his aides pushed or timed agency rule changes to benefit Sinclair’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The Sinclair-Tribune merger would result in a massive broadcasting conglomerate that would reduce localism and viewpoint diversity, kill jobs, and harm consumers.

The Sinclair-Tribune merger would allow Sinclair to reach 72 percent of all US television households, exceeding the national audience cap of 39 percent. But Chairman Pai reinstated the UHF discount, an outdated method of calculating audience reach which allows Sinclair to significantly undercount its reach to avoid the cap.

The investigation comes after Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Elijiah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to the FCC’s inspector general asking for “assistance in investigating whether Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has taken actions to improperly benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

Both the letter and the investigation focus on Pai’s actions to loosen media ownership limits, which would make Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune easier. “All of these actions – when taken in context with reported meetings between the Trump Administration, Sinclair, and Chairman Pai’s office – have raised serious concerns about whether Chairman Pai’s actions comply with the FCC’s mandate to be independent,” the letter concludes.

The FCC’s review of the Sinclair-Tribune merger should be paused until the investigation is complete. Before the FCC approves massive media consolidation, the public deserves to know whose interests Chairman Pai is serving.

 

Links:

F.C.C. Watchdog Looks Into Changes That Benefited Sinclair (New York Times, Feb. 15, 2018)

Lawmakers call for investigation into Pai’s treatment of Sinclair-Tribune merger (Speed Matters, Nov. 14, 2018)

 

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