WASHINGTON — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that an investigation has concluded that his office found no evidence of impropriety or favoritism by his office toward Sinclair Broadcast Group, which was seeking to merge with Tribune Media.
According to Pai, the inspector general's report concluded that after an investigation, "we found no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger.” The inspector general also said that the review "did not reveal any improper actions.”
"As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd, and today’s report proves that Capitol Hill Democrats’ politically-motivated accusations were entirely baseless," he said in a statement.
That transaction ultimately was scuttled earlier this month after Pai and other FCC commissioners voted to send the transaction to an administrative judge for review, citing Sinclair's potential misrepresentations and lack of candor during the review process.
Sinclair relied on that discount in reaching a merger deal with Tribune in May of 2017. The review also addressed how Pai's office handled Sinclair's proposed merger with Tribune Media, creating an unprecedented broadcast giant. Democrats cited the FCC's move in April of 2017 to restore a rule that allows station groups to "discount" the reach of their UHF outlets and then stay below media ownership limits.
They outlined a series of moves they said raised questions of whether Pai was favoring Sinclair, including the relaxation of a key media ownership rule. The inspector general, David Hunt, launched an investigation at the request of Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Hunt said that the report will be released soon.
The fine was the largest that the FCC had ever imposed for violation of those rules.” /> The inspector general also cited the FCC's move in December to fine $13 million for Sinclair for sponsorship ID violations.
Pai, in a statement, said that the inspector general "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.’"
The chairman had insisted that he long had argued that the FCC's media ownership rules needed an update.