FCC Inspector General Investigating Sinclair Rulings

Elon Musk's plan to use satellites to beam Internet to Earth just got a key endorsement Wednesday from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

The Federal Communications Commission a year ago updated its broadcasting ownership regulations just weeks before Sinclair Broadcasting announced its plan to purchase Tribune Media.

By bureaucratic practice, the FCC Inspector General does not confirm or deny potential or ongoing investigations.

Advocacy group Free Press and other groups today called on Pai "to recuse himself from all decisions related to the Sinclair Broadcast Group's proposed takeover of Tribune Media". Specifically, the panel has removed impediments to the company's plans to purchase Tribune Media; an acquisition that would give the broadcaster access to roughly three-quarters of United States households. Around the completion of the year, the premiere the interior watchdog for the F.C.C. unseal an investigation if Mr. Pai and his allies had inadequately propelled for the rule alterations and if they had scheduled them to satisfy Sinclair, according to Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey and two congressional aides.

But Pai said the FCC review of Sinclair's purchase was by the book and there's nothing new about his push for deregulation since he has always been an advocate of loosening restrictions on media companies' ability to consolidate and buy up competitors.

Free Press is among several consumer organizations which have complained that FCC approval would enable Sinclair to air "politically biased programming" to more than 70 percent of the USA population.

"The Chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals".

But the size of the transaction would not have been possible had the FCC not voted along party lines in April to restore a rule that allows companies to "discount" the reach of their UHF holdings.

The deal would give Sinclair control over the vast majority of local TV stations, a prospect that is disturbing for anyone who enjoys diverse, locally-accountable news, rather than having content controlled by one powerful central firm.

A coalition of public-interest groups, including CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press and MPower Change, have collected more than 400,000 petitions calling on the FCC to block the merger and investigate Chairman Pai's conduct. There's no word on how long the investigation will take.

Likely if and when Justice signs off on that, or its modification of Sinclair's modification, it will need to be refiled with the FCC and put out for public comment.

  • David Armstrong