House Dems want FCC chairman investigated over Sinclair-Tribune merger

House Dems want FCC chairman investigated over Sinclair-Tribune merger
© Greg Nash

Top House Democrats are calling for the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be investigated over whether he has been improperly clearing regulatory hurdles for the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media.

Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsDem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting Hillicon Valley: Trump denies Russian meddling at presser with Putin | Republicans join in criticism of Trump | FCC chief rejects Sinclair-Tribune merger | Uber faces probe over gender discrimination | Social media execs headed to Capitol Overnight Energy: Koch backs bill opposing carbon taxes | Lawmakers look to Interior budget to block offshore drilling | EPA defends FOIA process MORE (D-Md.) and Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneTop Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments FCC passes controversial rule changing how it handles consumer complaints Overnight Health Care: Dem demands details on Trump-Pfizer pricing deal | Why both sides agree nominee could shift high court to right on abortion | DEA gets more powers to limit opioid production MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter to the FCC inspector general on Monday, asking that he probe whether Chairman Ajit Pai has been clearing the way for the $3.9 billion deal.

“We request that you examine how the FCC has conducted its business with regard to Sinclair,” wrote Cummings and Pallone, the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee respectively.

Their letter cites a list of deregulatory moves that the FCC has taken this year that have benefitted Sinclair in its goal of expanding its massive holdings of local television stations across the country.

Sinclair is the largest owner of local television broadcasters in the U.S., and if its Tribune purchase is approved by the FCC, the media conglomerate will be able to reach more than two-thirds of the nation’s television audience — far exceeding the current 39 percent limit.

In April, just weeks before the merger was officially announced, the FCC reinstated a rule that had been repealed a year before that gives some broadcasters a discount toward the national ownership cap.

And on Thursday, the agency will be voting to eliminate more media regulations, including one that limits the number of stations a company can hold in the same market.

Cummings and Pallone asked the inspector general to probe whether “actions taken by the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership show a pattern and practice of preferential treatment for Sinclair."

"All of these actions — when taken in context with reported meetings between the Trump Administration, Sinclair, and Chairman Pai's office — have raised serious concerns about whether Chairman Pai's actions comply with the FCC's mandate to be independent," they wrote in their letter on Monday. "We request that you examine how the FCC has conducted its business with regard to Sinclair."

An FCC spokesperson responded by saying that the letter is an example of Democrats trying to "target one particular company because of its perceived political views."

"Any claim that Chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless," the spokesperson said in a statement. "For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations — one of which dates back to 1975. 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.”