The Federal Communications Commission last year updated its broadcasting ownership regulations just weeks before Sinclair Broadcasting announced its plan to purchase Tribune Media. While the timeline for these two events may have been a coincidence, many watchdog groups disagree. 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.
Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey told the Times the FCC's inspector general opened an investigation into FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his relationships with Sinclair Broadcasting. The investigation is focused on whether or not there was any coordination between Pai, Sinclair and Trump.
“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Pallone said. “I am grateful to the F.C.C.’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”
This investigation was originally requested by two representatives who were concerned that Pai and the FCC showed "a pattern and practice of preferential treatment" towards Sinclair.
Most believe the industry regulations were repealed largely to help the Sinclair-Tribune deal go through since they do not serve to benefit the public at all. If the deal went through, this would make Sinclair the largest television broadcaster in the country with an audience of nearly 70 percent of American households. Sinclair has been strongly criticized, most notably by John Oliver, for their politically motivated programming decisions and infamous "must-run" segments.
When the repeals were passed, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley called Pai's easing of the regulations "groundbreaking." Both Sinclair and the FCC have declined to comment on the current investigation but called the original allegations "baseless." A previous investigation by the Times uncovered secret meetings between Pai, his staff and Sinclair executives in the weeks prior to Pai's appointment as chairman.
The acquisition is still pending but the shadow of an ongoing investigation is likely to delay it even further.