Pai: Sinclair-Tribune Decision Made Based on Facts, Law

FCC chair Ajit Pai Wednesday stood by the FCC's decision to designate the Sinclair-Tribune deal for hearing.

In an FCC oversight hearing, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, took the lead in pressing Pai on President Donald Trump's tweet criticizing the FCC for not approving the Sinclair-Tribune deal.

The FCC instead referred it to an FCC judge with concerns about how Sinclair structured and presented some TV station spinoffs.


That came at an FCC oversight hearing Wednesday (July 25).

Pallone quoted the President's tweet and asked each member whether they agreed with it. Pai said he stood by his decision; commissioner Michael O'Rielly said he could not answer since the issue had been referred to the FCC judge; commissioner Brendan Carr said the hearing designation order had laid out the fact and law as applied, and commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she did not agree with the Tweet.

Pallone asked Pai if the FCC would conduct an investigation into issues of candor and misrepresentation cited in the hearing designation order, either now or when Sinclair TV station licenses come up for renewal. Pai said on the advice of the FCC's general counsel that he could not answer since such an investigation was inextricably linked with the hearing issues.

Pai agreed that if the President had any discussions with Pai or FCC staffers about the deal, he would disclose them with the caveat that it was limited by ex parte rules related to what he could and could not put on the record. Democrats are concerned the President could try to influence Pai to reverse course on Sinclair-Tribune.

The President's tweet had suggested there was a need for a conservative voice like Sinclair's. Pallone asked whether ideology went into whether the FCC approved or denied a deal--actually some opponents of the deal had argued it should be blocked because of its conservative, Pro-Trump commentaries.

Pai echoed his answer to how he would view mergers supplied at his 2011 nomination hearing, saying he would look at the facts, apply the law, and decide based on what was in the public interest.

John Eggerton

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.