A report released Monday from the FCC’s inspector general found that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t show any favoritism toward Sinclair Broadcast Group when the broadcast giant tried to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
The Office of the Inspector General decided to investigate the matter last November after some U.S. congressmen requested the agency take a look as to whether Pai had taken actions to improperly benefit Sinclair.
In its report OIG said that after a comprehensive investigation that included review of emails, phone records, and visitor logs, as well as interviews with the Chief of Staff and Pai, “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.”
Notably, the deal was terminated Aug. 9, after the FCC in July voted unanimously to refer the matter to an administrative law judge to review certain proposed station divestitures that Pai expressed “serious concerns” over.
“The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law,” Pai said in a statement at the time.
While critics pointed to Pai’s involvement in the reinstatement of the UHF discount – a move that would have enabled Sinclair to remain within the national audience reach cap – OIG did not find the Chairman’s actions were improper.
“To the contrary, actions taken by Chairman Pai in the rulemakings identified in the letters from Congress are, as he stated in his interview, consistent with his long-held, and publicly espoused, policy beliefs,” the report said.
Pai himself released a statement Monday, saying he was pleased with the OIG’s conclusion.
“I have called on the FCC for many years to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace. As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd,” Pai said.