FCC investigating Ajit Pai over relationship with Sinclair

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (Image: FCC)

An internal investigation is underway at the FCC to determine whether Chairman Ajit Pai improperly favored Sinclair Broadcasting with recent rule changes that allow broadcasters to own more TV stations.

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. Shortly after that rule change, Sinclair announced plans to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.

The New York Times confirmed with Representative Frank Pallone that the investigation began last year.

“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” said Pallone in a statement to the publication. He thanked the FCC’s inspector general for pursuing the investigation.

Last year, a group of Democratic senators led by Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tom Udall of New Mexico called for the FCC inspector general to look into the rule changes and the FCC’s review of the Sinclair-Tribune deal. The group suggested the existence of a “quid pro quo” relationship between FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Trump administration and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“We have strong concerns that the FCC’s ongoing review of the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media may be tainted by a series of actions and events that raise questions about the independence and impartiality of the FCC,” wrote the senators to FCC Inspector General David Hunt.

RELATED: FCC's Pai hits back at accusations of favorable treatment of Sinclair Broadcasting

Last year, Pai sent a letter (PDF) responding to House Democrats’ questions about the FCC’s dealings with Sinclair and the White House. He insists that neither his nor the FCC’s actions have been in the interest of individual companies.

“Whether I have been pushing for the revitalization of AM radio or fighting to ensure that broadcast television stations were treated fairly in the incentive auction proceeding, my actions have been motivated by my belief that a strong over-the-air broadcast service advances the public interest. They have not been fueled by a desire to help any particular company,” Pai wrote.