FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation over $3.9 billion media deal

Inspector General Conducting Probe of Timing of FCC Actions and Sinclair Deal

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation by the agency's independent watchdog over decisions that benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.

Before the Net Neutrality repeal that made him a household name, Pai worked to increase caps on broadcast TV ownership mere weeks before the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of a vast amount of local TV stations across the country, announced a $3.9 billion dollar deal to acquire Tribune Media.

"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting", said Pallone in a statement to the publication.

"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 FCC's inspector general is conducting an investigation into a series of FCC actions a year ago, and how they benefited Sinclair Broadcast Group in the midst of seeking regulatory approval for its acquisition of Tribune Media. Specifically, the panel has removed impediments to the company's plans to purchase Tribune Media; an acquisition that would give the broadcaster access to roughly three-quarters of U.S. households.

The deal was made possible by the new set of rules which is a little quick, and the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair.

Even if the deal were approved, they said, any conclusions of improper conduct by Mr. Pai could give fuel to critics to challenge the review in courts.

Free Press wants "Pai and any other FCC staff subject to this inquiry [to] recuse themselves from all dealings related to Sinclair's proposed takeover of Tribune Media", González said. Recent filings have suggested that Sinclair may be seeking waivers under a new FCC rule that would allow common ownership of more than one top-four station in a market on a case by case basis. In November, an FCC spokesman told Variety that "any claim that chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless".

Shortly after the FCC voted to revise its rules, Reps. There's no word on how long the investigation will take.

The FCC and Sinclair didn't respond to USA TODAY requests for comment.

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