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By Kyle Daly
Democratic lawmakers want Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to explain his relationship with Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. as it works to close its acquisition of Tribune Media Co.
Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) asked Pai in an Aug. 14 letter to supply information on any discussions he or his staff have had with the conservative broadcast giant or its representatives since the 2016 presidential election.
“We hope this letter will serve as an opportunity to respond to reports suggesting that you have failed to exercise adequate independence as FCC Chairman and that may have resulted in the agency giving unusual and possibly preferential treatment to Sinclair,” they wrote.
Sinclair’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune would create the nation’s largest broadcaster, reaching roughly 72 percent of U.S. TV-viewing households. The FCC under Pai has taken steps that signal it may look favorably on the merger, despite the Democrats’ concerns.
Pai cleared the way for Sinclair’s bid by engineering an agency reversal on how it counts ultra-high frequency (UHF) television stations against a national ownership cap. The commission also has approved Sinclair’s $240 million purchase of station owner Bonten Media Group LLC.
The Democrats want Pai to answer a range of questions about his treatment of Sinclair and his thinking on media consolidation. They want to know whether Pai knew about Sinclair’s plans to buy Tribune before changing how the agency counts UHF stations. The Democrats also asked Pai to disclose communication Pai has had with the White House regarding the merger or any other issues facing the FCC.
Pallone is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC. Doyle is the top Democrat on that panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee. DeGette is the ranking member of the panel’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
A Pai spokeswoman didn’t immediately comment.
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