According to the New York Times, the FCC Inspector General launched an inquiry last fall into whether Pai is a bit too comfortable with the companies he is thought to be held responsible.
Late last year, “the top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. reopened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had inappropriately pushed for the rule differences and whether they had timed them to serve Sinclair,” the report notes.
“It was unclear the scope of the inspector general’s inquiry or when it might achieve, but the inquiry puts a limelight on Mr. Pai’s resolutions and whether there had been coordination with the company,” notes the report. “It may also force him to respond questions that he has so far dodged addressing in public.”
The Inspector General is a neutral position at the FCC.
Consumer groups have routinely argued that Sinclair’s latest development would all but decimate diversity in local media recording. The deal, which wouldn’t have even been welcome until Pai dismantled numerous protections, would give the already-dubious network control of over 200 local-TV stations nationwide, moving more than 70 percent of the country.
Opposition to the deal is bipartisan in nature. Conservatives realize that a more powerful Sinclair would likely work to extinguish smaller, independent media outlets unfairly. Libertarians share those interests, while also expressing worries that Sinclair’s often distorted definition of “news” will erode national discourse further–just as the country is trying to come to grips with domestic and foreign disinformation and its impact on the elective process.
Consumer groups quickly jumped on the news, arguing that Pai should step back from managing his multiple efforts to gut media concentration rules or from supporting the Sinclair merger until the inquiry is comprehensive. That is something anyone forward with Ajit Pai knows won’t be happening.
“Until the inspector general’s inquiry is complete, Chairman Pai and any other FCC staff directed to this inquiry should recuse themselves from all dealings related to Sinclair’s planned takeover of Tribune Media,” Free Press Senior Counsel Jessica J. González said in a description. “If the investigation finds that Pai or any other FCC staff did certainly let their own bias and partisanship shape decisions related to the deal, they must not be allowed to vote on this matter and they should be subjected to other appropriate ethics-review processes.”
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