WASHINGTON – The inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been investigating the agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, for quite some time over allegations of impropriety, according to a New York Times report published Thursday.
The internal watchdog is reportedlylooking into whether Pai and his closest aides inappropriately supported media ownership rule changes in order to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting, a conservative media conglomerate that was ready to, and ultimately purchased, Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey told TheNYT. “I am grateful to the F.C.C.’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”
An FCC spokesman refuted the ambiguous — at least for now — accusations that have been levied against his office and the chairman.
“Given that the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership recently proposed a $13 million fine against Sinclair, the largest fine in history for a violation of the Commission’s sponsorship identification rules, the accusation that he has shown favoritism toward the company is absurd,” the agency representative told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “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.”
The spokesman said that Pai has for years called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations to keep up with modern times, so that the more recent actions are just a reflection of his long-held views.
By bureaucratic practice, the FCC Inspector General does not confirm or deny potential or ongoing investigations.
The FCC started workingon loosening regulationsagainst media consolidation in the early parts of the Trump administration and Pai’s time at the helm. Somewhat soon after, Sinclair Broadcasting announcedthe merger with Tribune, leading some distrustful observers to become suspicious of the timing, especially given the purported relationshiphe has with telecommunications and media companies.
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