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FCC chair actions on eve of Sinclair-Tribune deal under scrutiny

FCC chair actions on eve of Sinclair-Tribune deal under scrutiny
[Photo: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture]

The Federal Communications Commission’s top internal watchdog has opened an investigation into whether agency chair Ajit Pai and others improperly changed rules governing ownership of TV stations in order to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.

The New York Times reported today that just weeks after Pai spearheaded rule changes last April that resulted in companies like Sinclair being able to own significantly more stations, the broadcasting giant said it had agreed to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. The FCC’s new rules had made that deal possible.

By year’s end, the Times wrote, Pai and his aides were under investigation for promoting the relaxing of regulations that seemed timed to benefit Sinclair.

“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” New Jersey Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the FCC’s oversight committee, told the Times. “I am grateful to the FCC’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”

What’s not clear is the extent of the investigation or how it might impact the Sinclair-Tribune deal, which many public interest groups oppose on the grounds that it limits the number of media voices. But it seems evident Pai will have to answer questions about the timing of the rule changes.