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

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Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to run the agency by President Trump, the FCC has repeatedly pushed for policy changes to make it easier for broadcasters to amass greater ownership of media properties.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is being probed by the agency's inspector general about whether he inappropriately favored a conservative-leaning broadcast company, according to a lawmaker.

"I am particularly concerned about reports that Chairman Pai may have coordinated with Sinclair to time a series of commission actions to benefit the company", he continued. "The commission should take no action on this mega-merger until the conclusion of the inspector general's investigation". Somewhat soon after, Sinclair Broadcasting announced the merger with Tribune, leading some distrustful observers to become suspicious of the timing, especially given the purported relationship he has with telecommunications and media companies. In an official investigation uncovered by The New York Times, it turns out that even top officials at the FCC have reason to believe that something wasn't right.

The consumer group Free Press said that in light of the investigation, Pai should recuse himself from all decisions related to the Sinclair-Tribune deal.

If the merger is approved, the conservative broadcaster would be able to air politically biased programming to more than 70 percent of the USA population.

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The FCC has not commented on the report, although when allegations of bias in the rule-making process were surfaced in November, an FCC spokesperson told the Times "For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C.to update its media ownership regulations".

Most believe the industry regulations were repealed largely to help the Sinclair-Tribune deal go through since they do not serve to benefit the public at all. "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".

Last year, the FCC reinstated the UHF discount, a rule that allows broadcasters to count UHF signals at 50% toward the national audience reach cap.

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.

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