The Federal Communications Commission's Inspector General is probing whether Chairman Ajit Pai acted improperly in advocating for recent changes to the media ownership rules that could benefit Sinclair Broadcasting.
The rule change, approved last November, is seen as paving the way for right-wing Sinclair's proposed $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media Company. If the deal goes through, Sinclair will reach more than 70% of U.S. households.
Shortly after the FCC voted to revise its rules, Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey) and Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) asked Inspector General David Hunt to investigate whether the agency gave preferential treatment to Sinclair.
On Thursday, Pallone cheered Hunt's move. “For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Pallone said, according to The New York Times, which first reported news of the probe. “I am grateful to the F.C.C.’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”
Advocacy group Free Press, which opposes Sinclair's potential acquisition of Tribune, is calling for Pai to abstain from any further decisions about the merger.
"Everything about the Sinclair-Tribune deal is offensive," Free Press stated Thursday. "Here we have a Trump appointee who’s dumping all consumer safeguards to enable Sinclair to reach more than 70 percent of the country with its racist views and Republican talking points."
The FCC is also facing criticism from Attorneys General in 21 states and the District of Columbia, from House Democrats, over the decision to roll back the net neutrality rules. Earlier this week, Pallone and other Democratic lawmakers posed a series of questions to Pai about how the agency handled 24 million comments from the public about net neutrality. Among other questions, the lawmakers wanted to know why the FCC refused to cooperate with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation into comments submitted under fake names or by Russian bots.