Trump's FCC chair weighs rule change to save Sinclair's local news takeover before court can nix it

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, another corrupt as hell Trumpster.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is back in the news for his efforts to help Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the massive conservative conglomerate that has swallowed up entire broadcast markets in some places like Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Sinclair is looking to get even bigger. It already owns 173 stations in 80 broadcast markets, where it mandates stations run political commentary from Trump associates and promos that attack other journalists as fakes news, and fires reporters to do actual journalism on issues like climate change. Sinclair currently has a bid to get even bigger by purchasing Tribune Media Co. and its 42 local TV stations, which would extend its reach into 72 percent of American homes.

That runs counter to current federal rules, which limit the reach of a single broadcaster to 39 percent of the nation’s audience. Pai has already been challenged—by judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—for trying to engineer the rules to allow Sinclair to sort of fudge on that limit. He reinstated an old rule that broadcasters could discount the audience they had on UHF broadcast stations, because their signals had a smaller geographic reach than stations broadcasting on lower channels. That difference disappeared, however, in the switch to digital broadcasting in 2009. One judge on the D.C. panel “likened the FCC’s continuing the audience-counting discount, which is based on limitations from an obsolete broadcast technology, to keeping a moribund body on life support.”

Which is the least Pai would do to help out Sinclair. Given the court’s skepticism on that ploy of his, it appears that he’s going to try to engineer another work-around, and is “poised to schedule a July 12 vote on altering rules that cap broadcasters’ reach at 39 percent of the national audience, according to two people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal hasn’t been made public.” If cooking Sinclair’s numbers to stay below the cap didn’t work, then he’ll just change the cap before the court has a chance to rule and prevent Sinclair from taking over all the local news. Not that he’d be avoiding the courts by upping the cap from 39 percent, says Gigi Sohn, a former Democratic FCC official. “That’s going to be appealed right away,” she said.

Pai seems willing to do anything for Sinclair, so much so that the inspector general for the commission is investigating him for another rule change he made back in April of 2017 for the benefit of the company.

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