Two members of the US House of Representatives have sent a formal letter to the Federal Communications Commission Inspector General calling for an investigation of Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai after it was revealed that Mr. Pai had improper contacts with Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and has passed legislation to directly benefit them.
Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) believe Pai “has taken actions to improperly beneﬁt Sinclair Broadcast Group.”
The lawmakers believe Pai hasn’t sufficiently answered questions related to these meetings and are hoping a federal investigation can clear things up.
The investigation will focus on whether or not Pai and others at the FCC have used personal messaging channels and private emails to communicate with Sinclair. This would be a violation of the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The second part of the investigation centers around whether or not Mr. Pai’s actions have shown a pattern of preferential treatment towards Sinclair.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is the second largest television station operator in the US and largest by total coverage. Their 173 different stations currently reach about 40% of American households and they are looking to grow by purchasing Tribune Media. Many believe recent decisions made by the FCC have been targeted to directly help Sinclair expand their reach.
The FCC recently rolled back TV station ownership limits which required stations to maintain studios on the communities they serve.
Additionally, Pai announced this week that the FCC is going to completely undo the Obama-era “Net Neutrality” regulations protecting equal access to the internet
In a response to the request for investigation, Chairman Pai’s office stated:
“Unfortunately, this request appears to be part of many Democrats’ attempt to target one particular company because of its perceived political views, an effort that dates all the way back to 2004 when Ranking Member Pallone, Ranking Member Cummings, and other Democrats demanded that the FCC investigate Sinclair based solely on the content of a documentary they didn’t like and that hadn’t even aired. Any claim that Chairman Pai is modifying the rules now to benefit one particular company is completely baseless. 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 those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals.”