FCC Watchdog Looks Into Changes That Benefited Sinclair

17 February, 2018, 01:41 | Author: Shannon Aguilar
  • FCC inspector general investigating chairman over Sinclair report

By the end of the year, in a previously undisclosed move, the top internal watchdog for the FCC opened an investigation into whether Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair, according to Rep.

An FCC spokesman called the notion of favouritism by Pai "absurd", and noted that the agency had proposed a record fine against Sinclair for violating sponsorship identification rules. "I am grateful to the FCC's Inspector General that he has made a decision to take up this important investigation".

Sinclair already owns 173 stations dominating many other major cities, such as Baltimore, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., as well several stations in key electoral states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Such a deal was only possible under media ownership rules overseen by the FCC because the UHF discount rule enabled Sinclair to remove a significant number of its TV stations from the formula used to calculate whether it has too much influence in America's media landscape. If true this might cause trouble for Mr. Pai, but I'm not sure this wasn't anything but good lobbying on the part of Sinclair.

The top USA 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. They said, "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".

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.

A coalition of public-interest groups, including CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press and MPower Change, have collected more than 400,000 petitions calling on the FCC to block the merger and investigate Chairman Pai's conduct.

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Sinclair's top lobbyist, a former FCC official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules.

Critics of the deal have argued the FCC revised its rules - which prevented a single company from controlling too many broadcast stations and from controlling more than a single broadcaster in the same market - because of Sinclair's friendly treatment of President Donald Trump.

Pai is no stranger to the communications world. They pointed to a report in March 2017 from The New York Post, in which Trump is said to have met with Sinclair's executive chairman, David Smith, and discussed FCC rules. He has refused to turn over those communications to Congress.

The FCC in the spring said it would no longer count UHF stations in the formula.

The FCC IG declined to comment publicly on whether it is investigating, but Hunt informed Congressional aides that it is investigating during a meeting in December, the Times article said.

"An investigation could cast a cloud over the whole process", said Andrew Schwartzman, a senior fellow at Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Public Representation. The agency is waiting for Sinclair to propose divestitures that could resolve concerns about whether the enlarged company would exceed ownership caps, he said.


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