FCC finds Pai didn’t play favorites with Sinclair

Ajit Pai (FCC)
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. (FCC)

The FCC’s inspector general has officially concluded that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t play favorites with Sinclair during the review of its attempted $3.9 billion Tribune Media acquisition.

The findings come several months after the OIG first announced the investigation and, more importantly, arrive after Sinclair’s deal was effectively killed by the FCC. In July, the FCC unanimously voted to adopt a Hearing Designation Order (HDO) so an Administrative Law Judge could review station divestitures proposed by Sinclair. The order came after Pai voiced concerns regarding the station sales to people deemed too close to Sinclair and Executive Chairman David Smith.

“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction. 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,” Pai said.

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Today, Pai said he was pleased the OIG found "no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger."

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“I have called on the FCC for many years to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace. As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd, and today’s report proves that Capitol Hill Democrats’ politically-motivated accusations were entirely baseless,” Pai said in a statement.

The findings from the OIG come after an investigation was confirmed earlier this year. Legislators including U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, along with a group of Democratic senators led by Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tom Udall of New Mexico, cried foul over FCC tweaks to the UHF discount that seemingly favored Sinclair’s bid for Tribune.

The deal would have pushed Sinclair past the national audience reach cap had not the UHF discount, which allows UHF stations to be counted as 50% toward the cap, been reinstated.