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Democrats Concerned with Favorable Treatment Shown by the FCC to Sinclair Broadcast Group

Aug 14, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic leaders wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai today expressing concerns regarding reports that under his leadership, the FCC has taken actions that suggest favorable treatment towards Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The letter, signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Doyle (D-PA),

asks two overarching questions: whether actions taken by the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership show a pattern of preferential treatment for Sinclair, and whether a series of interactions between Pai’s office, the Trump Campaign and Trump Administration, and Sinclair demonstrate inappropriate coordination.

“The United States has maintained for decades a policy that restricts the number of viewers a single broadcast entity can reach nationwide so that the American public has access to a diversity of local voices over the air.  As the largest owner of television broadcast stations in the country, Sinclair had expanded to the limits of these FCC ownership rules,” wrote Pallone, DeGette, and Doyle.  “Since taking office, however, you have implemented a series of actions that ease these restrictions and allow Sinclair to expand its reach quickly.  You have simultaneously proposed to allow the industry to adopt a new broadcast technology that will likely benefit Sinclair more than any other company.”

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, the FCC has taken a series of swift actions that have benefitted Sinclair:

  • The FCC eased ownership caps by reinstating the outdated “UHF Discount,” allowing Sinclair to quickly acquire more broadcast stations.
  • The FCC established an expedited timeline for its review of the proposed Sinclair-Tribune transaction, allowing Sinclair to grow as quickly as possible.
  • The FCC approved Sinclair’s multimillion dollar deal to purchase stations owned by Bonten Media Group, shortly after the FCC revoked a processing guidance that would have required close scrutiny of the transaction.
  • The FCC has started a proceeding to allow TV broadcasters to begin using Next Gen TV – a technology whose primary patent-holder is Sinclair.

The lawmakers also wrote that Chairman Pai’s interactions and the Trump Administration’s interactions with Sinclair raise questions about the multiple FCC actions that have directly benefited the company.  Multiple press reports have suggested a favorable relationship existed between Sinclair and the Trump campaign, and now exists with the Trump Administration.  This includes a report involving a meeting with President Trump and Sinclair’s Executive Chairman, during which “potential FCC rules changes were discussed.”

In order to provide Chairman Pai an opportunity to respond to these reports, the lawmakers ask him to provide answers on questions relating to:

  • Meetings and correspondence with Sinclair
  • Next Gen TV proceedings
  • The proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger
  • Processing guidance on license transfer applications
  • And other potential FCC proceedings

Full text of the letter can be found here.