Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks to members of the media after a commission meeting December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.
"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting", Pallone told the "Times". 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".
Following Pallone's latest letter, in December the FCC inspector general kicked off a probe to uncover and investigate any signs of suspected corruption, according to congressional aides who spoke anonymously to the New York Times.
The FCC's Inspector General late past year agreed to open an investigation into FCC chairman Ajit Pai's handling of the Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune merger and related media ownership deregulatory decisions.
"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".
Pallone and Cummings told the IG that they had "repeatedly asked for all correspondence between Chairman Pai, his office, and Sinclair", without much success.
The Federal Communications Commission's controversial chairman is being probed. A union of Sinclair and Tribune would create the nation's biggest television broadcaster, reaching 7 out of 10 USA homes.
Neither Pai's office nor Sinclair returned requests for comment.
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An FCC spokesman called the notion of favouritism by Pai "absurd", and noted that the agency had proposed a record fine against Sinclair for violating sponsorship identification rules. What may have not been, however, is a mega media deal that Pai made possible previous year. The merger would let Sinclair, which the Times describes as a "conservative TV giant", reach 72 percent of TV-owning households in the US.
"An investigation could cast a cloud over the whole process", said Andrew Schwartzman, a senior fellow at Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Public Representation.
The New York Times reported today that just weeks after Pai spearheaded rule changes last April that resulted in companies like Sinclair being able to own significantly more stations, the broadcasting giant said it had agreed to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
The proposed deal was only made possible thanks to rule changes proposed and passed by Pai, not all of which fitted his "light touch" template.
An FCC spokesman said they had no comment.
Under Pai's leadersip, the FCC has taken several steps to boost Sinclair's business interests.
Pai's spokesperson said back in November of the request for an investigation: "Unfortunately, this request appears to be part of many Democrats' attempt to target one particular company because of its perceived political views, an effort that dates all the way back to 2004 when Ranking Member Pallone, Ranking Member Cummings, and other Democrats demanded that the FCC investigate Sinclair based exclusively on the content of a documentary they didn't like and that hadn't even aired".
"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", wrote the senators to FCC Inspector General David Hunt.