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Democratic Senators Call for Investigation of FCC Review of Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Group of 15 senators questioned FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s “objectivity and impartiality” in letter asking for him to be recused

A group of 15 Democratic senators have requested the inspector general of the Federal Communications Commission open an investigation into the agency’s review of the proposed $3.9 billion merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, questioning whether FCC Chairman is “free from influences that compromise his objectivity and impartiality.”

“We have strong concerns that the FCC’s ongoing review of the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media may be tainted by a series of actions and events that raise questions about the independence and impartiality of the FCC,” said a letter sent by the group, whose top two signatories were Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. The senators have asked that Pai be recused from all matters related to the merger, and that the review of the deal be placed on hold until the investigation is completed.

The letter cited a “series of actions to overturn decades-long, settled legal precedent undertaken by Chairman Pai since he assumed the helm of the FCC in January” that made the TV mega-merger possible. The deal, if approved, would create a company with 223 stations in 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50, covering 72 percent of households in the country.

The senators proceeded to detail those actions, including several meetings with Sinclair officials and President Donald Trump, as well as Pai voting to reinstate the UHF discount, without which a Sinclair-Tribune merger would have been legal.

“Put simply, this timeline suggests a disturbing pattern of a three way quid-pro-quo involving Sinclair, the Trump Administration and Ajit Pai,” the senators wrote. “Because of these facts, we are gravely concerned that Chairman Pai may have engaged in a pattern and practice of activity related to the Sinclair-Tribune transaction in a way that imperils the independence and public interest mission of the FCC.”