Exclusive: FCC Chair Ajit Pai Rejects Democrats’ Call to Investigate Sinclair Over Media Bias, Fake News

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Breitbart News exclusively obtained a letter Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai sent to Senate Democrats on Thursday. In it, Pai rejected the Democrats’ plea to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting Group over what the Democrats’ call “fake news.”

Breitbart News obtained the letter sent to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and other Senate Democrats which outlined why he rejected their call to investigate a broadcaster based on the contents of their news coverage.

Pai wrote:

Dear Senator Cantwell:

Thank you for your letter requesting that the Commission investigate a broadcaster based on the content of its news coverage and promotion of that coverage.  In light of my commitment to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of the press, I must respectfully decline.

A free media is vital to our democracy.  That is why during my time at the Commission I have consistently opposed any effort to infringe upon the freedom of the press and have fought to eliminate regulations that impede the gathering and dissemination of news.

Chairman Pai emphasized in his letter, “Most relevant here, I have repeatedly made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

Pai continued in his letter to Sen. Cantwell:

I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts, but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage or promotion of that coverage.  Instead, I agree with Senator Markey that “[a]ny insinuation that elected officials could use the levers of government to control or sensor [sic] the news media would represent a startling degradation of the freedom of the press.”  I also take this opportunity to reaffirm the commitment I made to several members of the Senate Commerce Committee last year that the Commission under my leadership would “not act in a manner that violates the First Amendment and stifles or penalizes free speech by electronic media, directly or indirectly.

Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Cantwell and Tom Udall (D-NM), along with 10 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to the FCC on Wednesday to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting Group, arguing that the company could lose their broadcasting license because they report “fake news.”

The senators wrote:

We have strong concerns that Sinclair has violated the public interest obligation inherent in holding broadcast licenses.  Sinclair may have violated the FCC’s longstanding policy against broadcast licensees deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information (traditionally known as the news distortion standard).

Critics, such as HBO’s Jon Oliver, contends that Sinclair carries a distinct conservative bias during their local news reporting.

“As far as we can tell, no other major owner of TV stations distributed its own commentary segments to run during local news,” Oliver said last year.

The FCC is currently reviewing a $3.9 billion merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media, combining the two media broadcasting organizations. The merger would put local TV channels in 72 percent of American households.

The Senate Democrats also note that they believe the Sinclair’s fake news should lead to the agency revoking their broadcasting license, ability to acquire more broadcasting licenses, as well as halt its merger with Tribune Media.

“As strong defenders of the First Amendment, guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press, we are alarmed by such practices,” the Democrats contended.

The Democrats also write that the FCC, under Chairman Pai, implemented new media ownership rules that has directly benefitted Sinclair. Senate Democrats also alleged that there was some form of quid pro quo taking place between President Donald Trump, Sinclair, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The Washington Post reported an imaginary meeting between Pai and President Trump last June, alleging unethical coordination between the White House and the FCC.

The Post later retracted its claim, arguing that Pai was in fact not in the same room as President Trump. The paper’s correction statement read: “An earlier version of this story suggested that Pai was in the same room as Trump. In fact, he attended a breakout session with other meeting members in a different building.”

Matthew Berry, chief of staff to FCC chairman Pai, questioned in a tweet whether the Washington Post fact-checks their articles.

Sinclair recently received mainstream media criticism for a local script the broadcasting company sent out to their local stations. The script condemned fake news and biased reporting from national outlets. Critics argued that the segment unfairly criticizes the media, while Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, argues that the script promotes journalistic integrity.

Livingston said in a statement on April 2, “It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable.”

“Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary,” Livingston added.

Sinclair also cited a survey conducted by Monmouth University, revealing that 77 percent of Americans believe that the mainstream media reports “fake news.”

President Trump event tweeted in support of Sinclair on April 2, calling Sinclair’s reporting fair superior to the “Fake News Networks.”

Trump wrote, “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”


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