Ajit Pai, the chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is reportedly under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general for potential wrongdoing regarding the chairman’s decision to change broadcast TV ownership rules.

According to the New York Times, Pai may have "improperly coordinated” with Sinclair Broadcast Group in order to rewrite rules that would open up a path for the company to complete its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.

Ajit Pai FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation over broadcast ownership rule changes. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

The issue dates back to April 2017 when Pai, the newly appointed head of the FCC under the Trump administration, moved to roll back longstanding media ownership rules that prevented any single broadcaster from owning enough television stations to reach more than 39 percent of U.S. households.

Just one month after FCC enacted the rule change, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it intended to purchase Tribune Media, another major player in the business of local news stations.

By acquiring Tribune Media, Sinclair would have a total of 223 TV stations in 108 media markets across the U.S., including 39 in the top 50 markets. It would also allow Sinclair to reach 72 percent of all U.S. households—well above the since-removed cap of 39 percent and considerably more reach than any of its competitors, all of which have abided by the ownership restrictions.

While Pai has maintained that the rule changes were in no way intended to benefit Sinclair specifically, other lawmakers have called into question the FCC chairman’s motivations for rolling back the restrictions.

In November 2017, Representatives Frank Pallone, D-NJ—top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee—and Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-MD, urged the inspector general to look into chairman Pai’s interactions with Sinclair regarding the rule changes.

“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Rep. Pallone, said in a statement . “I am grateful to the FCC’s inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”

According to Pallone, the inspector general will investigate whether Chairman Pai and his aides “improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in the company's attempt to purchase Tribune Media.” The investigation will reportedly also look into whether Pai and his aides “improperly coordinated with Sinclair on those rule changes."

Chairman Pai has yet to comment on the inspector general investigation. In November when the investigation was originally requested, the Chairman’s office issued the following statement:

"For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations—one of which dates back to 1975. The Chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals."