In a shocking twist that absolutely no-one could have seen coming, former industry lobbyist, part-time man-child, and full-time FCC chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly under investigation by the FCC’s internal watchdog. The investigation is focused on Pai’s push to change broadcast ownership rules, which have cleared the way for Sinclair Broadcast Group to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
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. According to the New York Times, the FCC’s internal watchdog is now investigating whether there was collusion between Pai and Sinclair over the process to change the rules.
“By the end of the year, in a previously undisclosed move, the top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair, according to Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey and two congressional aides,” the New York Times wrote. “It was unclear the extent of the inspector general’s investigation or when it might conclude, but the inquiry puts a spotlight on Mr. Pai’s decisions and whether there had been coordination with the company. It may also force him to answer questions that he has so far avoided addressing in public.”
The FCC has not commented on the report, although when allegations of bias in the rule-making process were surfaced in November, an FCC spokesperson told the Times “For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C. to update its media ownership regulations.” They said, “The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given 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 his proposals.”