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Analysis The chairman of America's broadband watchdog - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - is under investigation by the regulator's inspector general following a series of decisions that appear to favor one of the country's largest media owners.

In August 2017, Free Press filed a formal challenge to the proposed deal stating that the transfer of station licenses would give Sinclair a broadcast reach far in excess of congressional and FCC limits on national and local media ownership, and would harm the public interest. In November, an FCC spokesman told Variety that "any claim that chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless". The FCC inspector general's office doesn't always publish its findings, though they can be procured through Freedom of Information Act requests.

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

Sinclair announced its merger with Tribune several weeks later.

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The New York Times reported today that just weeks after Pai spearheaded rule changes last April that resulted in companies like Sinclair being able to own significantly more stations, the broadcasting giant said it had agreed to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. 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.

Pallone and Cummings told the IG that they had "repeatedly asked for all correspondence between Chairman Pai, his office, and Sinclair", without much success. "Considering 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 the reforms that the FCC has adopted".

Several other actions by Pai have also raised suspicions that he is acting to "improperly benefit" Sinclair.

Sinclair's merger is still awaiting approval from the Justice Department and the FCC.

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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.

The proposed deal was only made possible thanks to rule changes proposed and passed by Pai, not all of which fitted his "light touch" template.

FCC spokespeople were not available to comment on the status of that investigation or what the threshold for investigating a complaint is, though the FCC web site outlines the factors the IG considers in agreeing to investigate.

The aides, all of whom work for Democratic lawmakers, would speak only on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private. Dems want answers on security risk from fitness app MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on House Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

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The investigation shouldn't derail or slow the agency's review of its acquisition of Tribune, Bloomberg analyst Matthew Schettenhelm said in a note Thursday. 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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