FCC Chairman under investigation for relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting

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Ajit Pai, Indian American chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has been investigated by the commission's inspector general for months over allegations of impropriety. "It was unclear the extent of the inspector general's investigation or when it might conclude, but the inquiry puts a spotlight on Mr. Pai's decisions and whether there had been coordination with the company".

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, confirmed the investigation.

The IG will "investigate whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his aides improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in the company's attempt to purchase Tribune Media", Pallone's office said in a press release today.

Pai's critics have noted that he has pushed through a number of deregulatory proposals that appear to clear regulatory obstacles from Sinclair's proposed expansion.

The top United States telecom regulator is the object of an internal watchdog probe into the handling of rule changes that benefitted a politically sensitive merger of two major broadcast operators, a lawmaker said Thursday.

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The Federal Communications Commission's controversial chairman is being probed.

Conservative-leaning Sinclair is proposing a takeover of Tribune Media. Democrats had requested the probe, and sources said that the inspector general had informed them that one had been opened.

This loosening of broadcast-ownership rules came after press reports that Pai had conducted meetings with Sinclair executives days after the November 8, 2016 presidential election, and then again off FCC grounds days before Trump appointed him to chair the FCC.

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

Throughout his first year as chairman, Pai rolled back a series of media ownership restrictions, some of which directly benefitted Sinclair's merger.

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In later conversations, FCC officials said that an investigation was underway, according to two other aides.

The Times said that, following Pai leading a charge for the FCC to approve rules allowing TV broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own last April, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media.

An FCC spokesman said they had no comment. One meeting, with Sinclair's executive chairman, took place days before Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, took over as FCC chairman.

Pai's spokesperson said back in November of the request for an investigation: "Unfortunately, this request appears to be part of many Democrats' attempt to target one particular company because of its perceived political views, an effort that dates all the way back to 2004 when Ranking Member Pallone, Ranking Member Cummings, and other Democrats demanded that the FCC investigate Sinclair based exclusively on the content of a documentary they didn't like and that hadn't even aired".

The office of FCC inspector general, which is a nonpartisan role that reports to the agency and regularly updates Congress on some investigations, said it would "not comment on the existence or the nonexistence of an investigation".

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