House Dems press FCC for answers on Sinclair

House Dems press FCC for answers on Sinclair
© Getty Images

House Democrats are demanding answers from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about its “favorable treatment” of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has been cashing in on a series of agency moves that are easing restrictions on its control of local television stations.

In a 12-page letter sent to Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) seized on multiple media reports detailing how the agency has been delivering on Sinclair’s deregulatory wish list.

“We hope this letter will serve as an opportunity to respond to reports suggesting you have failed to exercise adequate independence as FCC Chairman and that may have resulted in the agency giving unusual and possibly preferential treatment to Sinclair," the three Democrats wrote.

Pallone, Doyle and DeGette are the ranking Democrats on the House Commerce Committee, the technology and communications subcommittee, and the oversight and investigations subcommittee, respectively.

ADVERTISEMENT
They asked Pai to come forward with more information about his office’s contacts with the White House and Sinclair on proceedings related to the broadcaster.

A spokeswoman for Pai was not immediately available to comment.

Since President Trump tapped Pai as chairman in January, the FCC has passed several proposals that have helped clear the way for Sinclair to buy up more local television stations.

Most notably, the commission voted in April to reinstate a rule that gives it greater room to acquire certain stations without running afoul of media ownership limits.

Critics say that rule, known as the ultra high frequency (UHF) discount, directly paved the way for Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion deal to purchase Tribune Media, which is awaiting FCC approval.

Democrats have blasted the deal, arguing that it gives too much power to a single ideological broadcaster and risks suppressing competing independent media outlets.

"The United States has maintained for decades a policy that restricts the number of viewers a single broadcast entity can reach nationwide so that the American public has access to a diversity of local voices over the air,” Monday’s letter reads. “As the largest owner of television broadcast stations in the country, Sinclair had expanded to the limits of these FCC ownership rules.

“Since taking office, however, you have implemented a series of actions that ease these restrictions and allow Sinclair to expand its reach quickly. You have simultaneously proposed to allow the industry to adopt a new broadcast technology that will likely benefit Sinclair more than any other company."