FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal

FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal
© Anna Moneymaker

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) internal watchdog cleared the agency's Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, of showing any favoritism toward Sinclair Broadcast Group in the review of its now-abandoned merger plans.

"Our investigation revealed no evidence of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger," the Office of Inspector General said in its report, which was released Monday.

Pai said he was "pleased" by the report.

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"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,” he said in a statement.

House Democrats last year had asked for Pai to be investigated over whether he had improperly taken actions to clear the way for Sinclair's planned $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media.

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Pai was seen as a staunch advocate for right-leaning Sinclair in its quest for merger approval.

But in a surprise move in July of this year, Pai referred the proposed merger to an administrative judge, a move that would likely have killed the deal.

Pai cited a number of side deals that Sinclair would have carried out to help the merged company comply with restrictions on ownership of television stations. The FCC questioned those deals, which they said would have seen Sinclair sell stations for below market value to individuals who still had ties to their company.

Sinclair later withdrew its merger application from the FCC. In August, Tribune Media formally backed out of the deal and sued Sinclair for $1 billion for breaching their agreement.