F.C.C. Investigation Clears Chairman in Sinclair Inquiry

F.C.C. Investigation Clears Chairman in Sinclair Inquiry

WASHINGTON — The internal investigator for the Federal Communications Commission has found that the agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, did not give preferential treatment to Sinclair Broadcast Group in the company’s effort to merge with Tribune Media.

The inspector general’s office said in a report that after examining emails, phone records and visitor logs and interviewing Mr. Pai and his chief of staff, Matthew Berry, “we found no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality.”

The agency’s inspector general had been looking for months into whether Mr. Pai’s decisions to relax regulations on media ownership were intended to benefit Sinclair in the merger.

The office found that Mr. Pai’s policy decisions were consistent with his public statements over the years that the rules on media ownership needed to be relaxed. The inspector general also said a fine against Sinclair by the commission under Mr. Pai’s leadership showed that he hadn’t favored the company.

The inspector general’s office did not return requests for comment. Its report, dated Friday, was posted online.

In April 2017, Mr. Pai lifted a cap on how many television stations an individual or company could own nationwide. Weeks later, Sinclair announced its intent to buy Tribune, a deal that many consumer groups and Democratic lawmakers said was enabled directly by Mr. Pai’s new rules.

Democrats led by Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey criticized the timing of the decisions and praised the inspector for opening an investigation at the end of 2017 into potential coordination between Mr. Pai and the company.

Mr. Pai, however, did not agree to the merger and instead asked the commission to send it to an administrative judge for review. In August, Tribune called off the merger.

The report said Mr. Pai’s suggestion that the case be handed over to an administrative judge was “significant evidence” that he did not show favoritism to Sinclair.

“I have called on the F.C.C. for many years to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd.”

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