Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, is under investigation by the Comission’s own watchdog, but surprisingly enough, not over the dismantling of Net Neutrality Rules…
Instead, the FCC Inspector General has launched an inquiry into a massive media deal that Ajit Pai helped to make possible, last year. According to a story in the New York Times, Pai vocally led the calls last April for his agency to raise the limits of television broadcasters, in relation to the number of stations they owned.
The rules were changed, and a mere three weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a near $4 billion deal to take over Tribune Media, a move only made possible by the rule changes.
Last year, Sinclair Media’s CEO, Chris Ripley, called Ajit Pai’s relaxation of the media ownership rules a “landmark” development for both his company and the industry. The FCC and Justice Department are widely expected to approve the merger later this year.
The FCC opened the investigation into whether Pai and his aides had pushed for the change to happen specifically in time for it to benefit Sinclair Media.
Didn’t anyone else notice?
“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” said Frank Pallone, a Congressional Democrat on the committee that has oversight of the FCC, in a statement. “I am grateful to the FCC’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”
The overall scope of the investigation, time-line, or if any major revelation will eventually come is mere conjecture at the time of the writing. No definitive allegation has been made either as to whether Pai received any incentives to push the deal through.
Should Pai be found guilty of any impropriety however, it would cast further doubt on his motives behind dismembering Net Neutrality.
The Office of the FCC Inspector General, an independent and non-partisan body within the FCC also told the New York Times that it would not “not comment on the existence or the nonexistence of an investigation.”