Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has “serious concerns” about the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media, Politico reports, raising the possibility that the news mega merger is doomed.
The chairman said on Monday that he proposed putting the $3.9 billion deal under review by an administrative law judge, a lengthy process that typically signs the death sentence of most corporate deals.
Sinclair is already the U.S.’s largest TV station owner, with over 170 stations nationwide. Acquiring Tribune Media would add 42 stations to the conservative conglomerate, including some in New York and Chicago.
The deal was originally proposed in May 2017, but revisions have dragged the process out over the past year. Sinclair offered to sell 21 stations in an effort to appease FCC regulations, but the details of the sales would have allowed Sinclair to continue close relations with those stations, according to Politico.
“The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law,” said Pai in a statement, outlining his concerns.
The decision was a pleasant surprise for democrats and liberal groups, who have criticized Sinclair for giving a disproportionate amount of favorable coverage to President Trump since the 2016 election campaign. Sinclair has also been under fire for distributing “must-run” scripted pro-conservative coverage to its broadcast stations.
Pai himself has been suspected of giving Sinclair special treatment, The Hill reports, but he has denied that his efforts to deregulate the media industry were for the benefit of any one company. He had previously revived a loophole that allows broadcast media groups to reach up to 78% of U.S. households, well above the FCC’s 39% cap, Politico reports.