FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the inspector general found no evidence of impropriety or favoritism in the agency’s review of the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger.
Two House Democrats had asked the FCC’s inspector general to examine whether Pai was biased in favor of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which was seeking regulatory approval of a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune.
Reps. Frank Pallone and Elijah Cummings cited recent FCC decisions around local ownership that would benefit Sinclair, which had reportedly struck a deal to afford favorable coverage of President Donald Trump.
“I’m pleased that the Office of Inspector General has concluded that there was ‘no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger,'” Pai said in a statement.
Pai said he merely called on the FCC to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace. He said he has long viewed allegations of favoritism as “absurd,” adding, “today’s report proves that Capitol Hill Democrats’ politically-motivated accusations were entirely baseless.”
The full document notes that after conducting a comprehensive investigation that included reviewing emails, phone records and visitor logs, the inspector general found no evidence of impropriety, favoritism towards Sinclair.
“When asked specific questions as to whether any actions that ultimately may have inured to Sinclair’s benefit were influenced by any promises or threats either by Sinclair or any other entity, including President Trump or the Executive Office of President, the Chairman unequivocally replied in the negative,” Inspector General David Hunt wrote, adding, “We have found no evidence that would lead us to question these responses.”
Hunt singles out Pai’s recommendation to send the deal through a lengthy administrative review process, citing “serious concerns” about the merger.” The inspector general called that decision —widely viewed as a deal-killer — as “evidence that the Chairman did not engage in any favoritism toward Sinclair.”
Trump criticized the decision as “Sad and unfair.”
The combination would have brought Sinclair — with its must-run packages of commentary — to 72% of American households.