FCC Boss Being Investigated By His Own Agency For Being Too Cozy With The Industry He Regulates

from the not-particularly-shocking dept

If you watched FCC boss Ajit Pai's rushed repeal of net neutrality there really shouldn't be any question about where Pai's loyalties lie, and it certainly isn't with smaller companies, healthy competition, transparency, openness, innovation, or American consumers. The agency head repeatedly lied about the justifications for the repeal, casually using fabricated data to justify what may just be the least popular policy decision in this history of modern technology. Pai's fealty to giant monopolies runs so deep, his agency now just directs reporters to lobbying talking points when they question the flimsy logic propping up the repeal.

So for those paying attention, it's probably not too surprising to see news that the FCC's own Inspector General is investigating the agency boss for being a bit too cozy with the giant companies he's supposed to be holding accountable:

"Last April, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, led the charge for his agency to approve rules allowing television broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own. A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.

By the end of the year, in a previously undisclosed move, the top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair, according to Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey and two congressional aides."

Sinclair's $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media has already faced broad, bipartisan opposition by those concerned that the merger will dramatically damage both competition and opinion diversity across countless markets nationwide. The Sinclair Tribune tie up would give Sinclair ownership of more than 230 local broadcast stations around the nation, allowing it to reach 72% of the public with "reporting" frequently lamented as grotesquely distorted on a good day.

Sinclair's latest merger couldn't occur without Pai's decision to gut numerous media consolidation rules over the last few months, including several decades old rules specifically designed to prevent any one company from unfairly dominating a media market and crushing local competition. Unsurprisingly, consumer groups were quick to seize on the news suggesting that the agency should suspend its review of the merger until the Inspector General inquiry is complete:

"Until the inspector general’s investigation is complete, Chairman Pai and any other FCC staff subject to this inquiry should recuse themselves from all dealings related to Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune Media," Free Press Senior Counsel Jessica J. González said in a statement. "If the investigation finds that Pai or any other FCC staff did indeed let their own bias and favoritism shape decisions related to the deal, they must not be permitted to vote on this matter and they should be subject to other appropriate ethics-review processes."

Of course if you're familiar with Pai's work, you know that won't be happening, and in Pai's ideologically-blinded brain this will all be dismissed as the errant rantings of partisans. But again, opposition to this deal is fairly uniform across the spectrum. Conservatives don't like it because they realize Sinclair is going to squeeze smaller media outlets out of the equation unfairly. Liberals don't like it because they know Sinclair is going to fill the airwaves with more nonsense just as we're trying to get a hold on problems inherent in foreign influence, disinformation, and discourse quality.

Regardless, Pai's going to have a very busy few years. He's already facing several different inquiries into why his agency made up DDOS attacks and turned a blind eye to identity theft as part of an apparent attempt to downplay massive public opposition to his policies. He's also facing several law enforcement inquiries (one of which he's actively blocking) and numerous lawsuits into his agency's blatant disregard of the public interest. And while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules, it's pretty hard to act confused about where Pai's loyalties truly lie.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Feb 2018 @ 6:35am

    Sinclair's $3.9 billion acquisition of Sinclair

    Talk about self-dealing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 6:44am

    "while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules" -- it's good enough for minion to base yet another attack piece on.

    "He's already facing several different inquiries into why his agency made up DDOS attacks and turned a blind eye to identity theft as part of an apparent attempt to downplay massive public opposition to his policies."

    Back to lying about you don't KNOW occurred by any intent, just whining and smear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    carlb, 16 Feb 2018 @ 6:51am

    self-dealing?

    Yes, that level of self-dealing is par for the course.

    There are legal limits on how many stations the same people can own in the same market (so, for instance, someone holding separate full-power affiliate stations in two of the big four networks in the same city would be a no-no) and there are ways around these limits.

    For instance, there are local marketing agreements (LMA) and shared service arrangements (SSA). Both do something similar; one company owns a station but has some other company run the station for them. In LMA, the company running the station just rents the entire station's airtime to put their own content and ads there (they collect the ad revenue and pay the nominal station owner), in SSA the station owner collects the ad dollars and uses them to pay the other folks to run the station. The result is the same.

    Sinclair and Cunningham Broadcasting are infamous for this. They're nominally separate licensees, but they're controlled by members of the same family - ie: Mummy and Daddy own Sinclair, Grandma owns Cunningham and sets that company's stock aside as the grandkids' inheritance, Grandma then has Mummy and Daddy run her stations for her with an LMA or SSA and the whole thing ends up automated from the same site.

    That's the level of what could be done to circumvent concentration of ownership restrictions in the days before Ajit Pai. It's only gotten worse since then. Commercial radio is just as bad, with companies like Clear Channel (iHeartRadio) free to own 2 AM + 6 FM stations in the largest cities - which could let them tie up a quarter of the dial.

    Is it any wonder that all the pap sounds the same?

    Sinclair's $3.9 billion acquisition of Sinclair is self-dealing, but it's nothing new and it fits the pattern.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Machin Shin, 16 Feb 2018 @ 7:16am

    Re: "while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules" -- it's good enough for minion to base yet another attack piece on.

    Ok, we don't "KNOW" what happened, but why is that? If this DDOS really happened shouldn't he have given the logs over to the proper agencies to investigate? This is a DDOS against a federal agency and their response is to shrug?

    This is the Federal Communication Commission. Communication is literally in their fucking name, how can they suck so hard at communicating?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 7:21am

    Its amazing how blatant Ajit Pai is in regards to his corruption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 7:28am

    Re: "while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules" -- it's good enough for minion to base yet another attack piece on.

    We KNOW that there was massive comment fraud and he has done nothing about and is actively resisting at least one investigation. Those are known facts, not whining and smear. Not even Pai is denying those facts, he just doesn't care.

    You, however, are lying about putting up a video on youtube proving how Mike REALLY feels about free speech. So why should we believe anything you say?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Feb 2018 @ 7:40am

    A bit too cozy? No seriously, I could describe this with colorful sexual terms but I'll just say it's about time he starts being punished for said relationship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 16 Feb 2018 @ 7:55am

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/02/15/fcc_chairman_investigation/

    A parallax view, in case anybody is interested.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    why is this amazing?

    This not a shock, it was expected.

    History of the world in a nutshell.

    Weak and Scare people ask for government to protect them from things they should be doing for themselves. Bad actor shows up and abuses that power.

    Humans have a really bad habit of willfully accepting lesser evils just to staff off the bigger evils never realizing all the while that those lesser evils are causing more damage over time when compared to the greater short lived evils.

    History teaches that humans never learn from it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 8:28am

    Re: self-dealing?

    "There are legal limits on how many stations the same people can own in the same market"

    This has been under attack for some time and is not what it used to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 8:29am

    Re: "while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules" -- it's good enough for minion to base yet another attack piece on.

    At some point you should look at what you write and learn something about yourself.

    I don't expect you to see it now, but in time it may help: Whining and smear is not limited to your adversaries here...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 8:30am

    another 'look we're doing something'! what a waste of time! the man wants sacking and brought up on corruption charges, along with those from the industries his going out of his way to aid and ordinary people/customers he's ignoring and harming! what an asshole!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 8:42am

    Worth noting...

    ...is that Sinclair is run by white supremacists. It may not be common knowledge to all of you, but to those of us who live near their HQ, it's old news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 9:07am

    Re: "while this particular inquiry may not conclude that Pai technically broke the law or violated agency rules" -- it's good enough for minion to base yet another attack piece on.

    Man, it's almost like there should be investigations into things we know happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re:

    Yes, I often wonder why random customers don't wander down to the ISPs and enact complex regulatory frameworks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 9:51am

    Re: Worth noting...

    *gasp*

    Next you'll be telling me the guy in the White House who constantly demonizes racial minorities is the White Supremacist to!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 10:13am

    Re: Re: Worth noting...

    I know. Shocking, isn't it? I can barely contain my astonishment.

    Less snarkily, just like in any neighborhood, if you want to know the good stuff, all you have to do is hang out in the right bars and restaurants, or know the people who work at the golf courses, retail stores, and hair salons, or talk to neighbors and classmates.

    Yes, I'm sure you can see it from wherever you are, because you're observing their words and actions and drawing the correct conclusions. But locally, we see it directly.

    These are truly awful people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 11:52am

    Re:

    Jeebus.

    It is almost completely speculative, so a lot of things to dig into, but the amount of data and the ways it has been carried out certainly points towards a "mutually beneficial arangement" between a public administation employee and a private group of people.

    Particularly the UHF-case and the JTA-situation is beyond disturbing.

    Unfortunately I am not seeing any of it making enough for a court-case. Expect it to end in a few sharp words about the insufficiencies in Pais procedures in relation to documentation of the meeting with Don Smith and some grave words about how a lot of it certainly doesn't look proper.

    But since nobody reads those documents, the "no smoking gun" will be interpreted as "not guilty" and the ivolvement of a democrat will make conspiracy a good word to use, to ensure that the proper partisans know their story. If nobody else creates a shitstorm to keep Pai, his life-partner Don Smiths media-empire, Sinclair will protect their asset.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Probably because they are too stupid to understand that "government regulatory agency" is not the only way to solve that problem, just that it is the only path offered by their political superiors.

    When you ask for government to solve a problem you and your fellow citizens should be solving, you become a peasant. Of course you will be treated like the dirt you have allowed yourself to become.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "a problem you and your fellow citizens should be solving"

    Yup - what is wrong with all you lazy bums? Why are you not solving all the worlds problems? What's that? Craporations stop you from doing that? Hmmmmmm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Worth noting...

    But Donny tells me they are very fine people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 16 Feb 2018 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, it's because in our form of government, the government is supposed to be the collective hand of the people to smack down bullshit that is larger and more widespread than any people can handle themselves.

    The only way for the population to control any such things would be to take illegal measures, fire, and pitchforks to every bad actor ever, and suffer mass casualties. (There were actually times when things like this happened, and they usually did not work out in favor of the public or workers.) Most people would not have a job doing anything else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 5:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The only way citizens can solve such problems is by organizing and and developing way of making and enforcing decisions. Guess what, you have just re-invented government, with all the niches for those who seek power over other to occupy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Feb 2018 @ 9:13pm

    Pai has taken MILLIONS in secret payments from Sinclair broadcasting both before and during his FCC chairmanship. It's only a matter of time before some disgruntled accountant (Sinclair has quite a few) decides to "accidentally" email the wrong person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Feb 2018 @ 3:50am

    This long, and no Richard "Dick" Bennett rebuttal?

    I'd would've thought he'd have some well-articulated criticism of how the agency is staffed with left-wing nutjobs...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Philly Bob, 17 Feb 2018 @ 10:03pm

    Re:

    "A bit too cozy? No seriously, I could describe this with colorful sexual terms but I'll just say it's about time he starts being punished for said relationship."

    He'll be punished alright... by acquiring a nice 7 figure salary at one of these big companies he lobbied for. And IF he were to go to jail (which I'm sure he won't) he'll still have that 7 figure job. Plus all the payola he got already and be out in short time. He wins no matter what.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 18 Feb 2018 @ 4:01am

    Outliers

    Isn't the FCC noted for historically being pretty damn cozy with the industry is regulates anyway? This in a political arena where regulatory capture, special interest and buying votes is so normal it barely raises comment. If he's managed to actually twitch the agency's own "investigate-ometer", you have to wonder just how far from the political pack he's strayed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2018 @ 11:38am

    Re:

    What is known about AjiT Pai? Where does he come from? Is he American? How long has he been an American? Is he part of the arabs who put obama through harvard? WTF?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.