Pai: IG Finds No Favoritism Towards Sinclair

According to FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Inspector General investigation into whether the FCC had favored Sinclair in its media dereg or the Tribune deal review concluded that there was "no evidence or suggestion of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, or favoritism towards Sinclair" in general, or impartiality in the deal review, according to the chairman.

The FCC wound up voting unanimously to designate the Tribune deal for a hearing before an FCC judge, citing allegations of possible Sinclair lack of candor about the deal structre, though Sinclair denies that was the case. The deal subsequently fell apart and Tribune is suing Sinclair.

"[A]ctions taken chairman Pai in the rulemakings identified in the letters from Congress are, as he stated in his interview, consistent with his long-held, and publicly espoused, policy beliefs," the IG found, according to Pai. He also pointed to the Dec. 21, 2017, notice of apparent liability against Sinclair for sponsorship ID violations in the history of the FCC,"

"I have called on the FCC for many years to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace," said Pai of the report. "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.”

The chairman cited what he said were the key takeaways from the investigation, which had been requested by Hill Dems unhappy with the FCC media ownership deregulation that Sinclair attempted to capitalize on.

Back in November, joined by Overnight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, asked FCC inspector general David Hunt to investigate whether Pai had "taken improper actions to benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group."

At the time, an FCC spokesperson called the request part of an effort by Democrats to target Sinclair over its perceived conservative political views, and branded the allegations a baseless attempt to distract from the merits of the deal.

“Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair needed to be investigated in light of Sinclair’s ties to the President and the chairman’s abysmal responses to Congressional Democrats’ numerous oversight letters," said Pallone. "It should not take an IG investigation to get answers to basic questions regarding independence and integrity. The IG report provides the first detailed responses to Congress’ questions. Beyond that, questions remain regarding the chairman’s personal communications, which the IG noted were beyond his reach, and his conversations with Jared Kushner and Don McGhan. I’m glad the IG confirmed he will conduct an additional forensic examination on communications with the White House.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.