FCC chairman Ajit Pai has expressed “serious concerns” over Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s planned acquisition of Tribune Media, stating the matter is in the process of being presented before an administrative law judge.
“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction,” Pai said in a statement. “The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.”
Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction. I have shared with my @FCC colleagues a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. pic.twitter.com/WnCTGiC7Da
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) July 16, 2018
As the largest broadcasting group in the U.S., Sinclair has been under scrutiny for strong-arming its local affiliates to push its conservative agenda that avidly supports the Trump administration. Analysts have long speculated that Sinclair’s end goal in currying favor with Trump is to gain his support in easing regulations that would prohibit acquisitions like that of Tribune Media. Given the fact that Pai was a direct appointment of Trump’s, Pai’s announcement calling into the question the way Sinclair might extend its influence beyond the dictates required to approve the merger comes as a bit of a surprise.
In his statement, Pai says the Communications Act doesn’t allow the FCC to green light such a transaction, and that he’s calling for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. Then again, Pai very well could just be going through the motions of ethics as to not raise further suspicion over Sinclair’s relationship with the Trump administration.