Senate Democrats call out Ajit Pai on media ownership rule changes

Ajit Pai (FCC)
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

A group of Democratic senators, along with independent Bernie Sanders, has called out FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for rule changes that appear to favor Sinclair Broadcasting.

In the letter, the lawmakers voice concerns over Pai’s recent reinstatement of the UHF discount—a move that’s been credited with helping move forward Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media—as well as future plans to revise media ownership rules.

“The steps you have taken since you were elevated to chair of the agency, in concert with your reported plans to act on additional media ownership issues this fall, undercut—and threaten to do permanent damage to—the American tradition of local broadcasting,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators urged Pai to not take any further actions on media ownership without performing a “thorough public review of the state of the broadcast marketplace today.”

In addition to accusing Pai of directly aiding Sinclair’s consolidation efforts by reinstating the UHF discount, the Senators warn Pai against changing rules governing ownership of multiple stations by the same company in a single market and the co-ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

“Americans continue to have faith in their local broadcast stations. Moves to repeal the media ownership rules threatens to create a world of corporatized, nationalized content being force fed to consumers under the guise of local news and public affairs programming. This is not the broadcast media Americans deserve,” the Senators wrote.

RELATED: FCC's Pai hits back at accusations of favorable treatment of Sinclair Broadcasting

The letter is not the first time Democratic members of Congress have questioned Pai’s motives in revamping broadcast regulations. In August, House Democrats demanded answers to a line of questions also asserting preferable treatment of Sinclair.

Last month, Pai responded to the questions in that letter, looking to answer questions lawmakers asked about the FCC’s dealings with Sinclair and the White House, and to insist that neither his nor the FCC’s actions have been in the interest of individual companies.

“Whether I have been pushing for the revitalization of AM radio or fighting to ensure that broadcast television stations were treated fairly in the incentive auction proceeding, my actions have been motivated by my belief that a strong over-the-air broadcast service advances the public interest. They have not been fueled by a desire to help any particular company,” Pai wrote.