Monday, 24 September, 2018

FCC watchdog investigates Ajit Pai over Sinclair-Tribune merger

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai FCC watchdog investigates Ajit Pai over Sinclair-Tribune merger
Nellie Chapman | 16 February, 2018, 03:32

A watchdog within the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is probing the panel's Chairman, Ajit Pai. On Thursday this week, Pallone appeared to confirm the story in two tweets in which he said: "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has chose to take up this important investigation". "I am grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has chose to take up this important investigation", Pallone said in a statement.

By bureaucratic practice, the FCC Inspector General does not confirm or deny potential or ongoing investigations.

That letter followed an exchange between Pallone and Pai in August and September in which Pallone asked for information about decisions the FCC had made to lift ownership rules but Pai "repeatedly refused to adequately respond to", according to Pallone.

"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. "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".

"For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations", the FCC spokesman said.

Pai has said the review has been by the book, and he has long argued for deregulating broadcasting and that the UHF discount should be looked at in tandem with the 39% ownership cap, including whether an analog discount should replace it, though he has also suggested the UHF discount was an anachronism.

However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point. After this meeting took place, Pai eased the first of what many regulations affecting ad revenue and growth limited imposed on media companies.

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.

"Everything about the Sinclair-Tribune deal is offensive", Free Press stated Thursday. The FCC and Justice Department are widely expected to approve the merger in the coming weeks.

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.

"An investigation could cast a cloud over the whole process", Andrew Schwartzman, a senior fellow at Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Public Representation, told the Times. "For the review, knowledge of an investigation could generate caution and even delay completion of the deal".