The Federal Communications Commission's inspector general is looking into the possibility that Chairman Ajit Pai rolled back regulations with the intent to help Sinclair Broadcast Group purchase rival station Tribune Media.
Last April, Pai pushed through the first of several regulatory changes that allow TV broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own — Sinclair, already the nation's largest TV broadcaster, would own 223 stations reaching 72 percent of households if its $3.9 billion Tribune purchase goes through. Under rules in place since the 1970s, broadcasters were limited to 39 percent of markets. Pai calls those rules outdated in the internet age, but critics say the conservative Sinclair's vast expansion would limit the diversity of news in markets across the U.S.
Pai has not obliged Democratic lawmakers' requests to turn over communications he has had with Sinclair and the White House regarding the decision.
Just before his appointment to chairman, Pai met with Sinclair executives. He also company officials numerous times after taking the post.
"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,"[Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)] told the Times. "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation."