Pallone's spokesman confirmed a report in the New York Times, which first reported the FCC inspector general's probe into Pai's actions on rules affecting the proposed deal in which Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest United States broadcast television group, is seeking to buy Tribune Media Co.
Sinclair Broadcasting purchased Tribune Media a few short weeks after new rules were passed by the FCC that allowed this action. In an official investigation uncovered by The New York Times, it turns out that even top officials at the FCC have reason to believe that something wasn't right.
Mr. Pallone, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the F.C.C., said that he has been trying for months to uncover the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting. On Thursday this week, Pallone appeared to confirm the story in two tweets in which he said: "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has made a decision to take up this important investigation".
Pai's actions "have been consistent with his long-held views", Brian Hart, an FCC spokesman, said in an emailed statement. What may have not been, however, is a mega media deal that Pai made possible previous year.
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But the reason that the FCC had focused on JSAs and insisted on giving them special scrutiny was because Sinclair Broadcasting had used the arrangement for more than two decades to drive small television stations out of business and expand into new markets.
The inspector general's office has not confirmed the investigation. Did Pai help Sinclair by deregulating as expected, or did Sinclair anticipate that deregulation and time its Tribune deal to capitalize on it.
Reps for Sinclair did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If the deal went through, this would make Sinclair the largest television broadcaster in the country with an audience of almost 70 percent of American households.
A New York Times investigation published in August found that Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times.
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Pai has maintained that the rule changes were under consideration before the Sinclair merger.
Pai's critics have noted that he has pushed through a number of deregulatory proposals that appear to clear regulatory obstacles from Sinclair's proposed expansion.
"The publicly available evidence suggests a pattern of abuse where Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump messages in exchange for policy favors from the Trump administration and its FCC chairman", said Free Press senior counsel Jessica Gonzalez.
She noted that Pai has always been a champion of updating its media ownership regulations.
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"It's doubtful the review will lead to a public report in the short term that would move the FCC's three Republicans to block the deal", Schettenhelm said.