FCC Watchdog Looks Into Changes That Benefited Sinclair

FCC Watchdog Looks Into Changes That Benefited Sinclair

And the plan this week got a key endorsement from U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Shortly after that rule change, Sinclair announced plans to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.

"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. He thanked the FCC's inspector general for pursuing the investigation.

Antitrust experts said this new investigation may complicate the reviews of the Sinclair-Tribune deal by the F.C.C. and the Justice Department.

Now, Pai is under investigation by his own agency as questions continue to arise around the timing of Pai's push to increase the cap in connection with the Sinclair/Tribune agreement.

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.

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.

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

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".

At the time, an FCC spokesperson called the request part of an effort by Democrats to target Sinclair over its perceived conservative political views, and branded the allegations a baseless attempt to distract from the merits of the deal.

One is a seemingly obscure decision [PDF] made less than one month into his chairmanship to "rescind in its entirety and effective immediately" internal FCC rules concerning the review of so-called joint sales agreements - JSAs.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai hasn't been on the job long, but is already embroiled in his second large-scale, highly controversial decision.

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.