FCC

Press Club: Reporter Manhandled by FCC Security

NPC president calls it 'completely unacceptable' 5/18/2017 10:08 PM Eastern

According to the National Press Club, a reporter for CQ Roll Call was restrained by FCC guards and required to leave after he tried to ask questions of Commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

Journalists impeded from their appointed rounds of asking questions of public officials is a sore point with journalists, particularly given the President's attitude toward journalists and the recent arrest of a West Virginia reporter for asking questions of an Administration official.

"Security guards at the Federal Communications Commission headquarters here manhandled a well-regarded reporter at a public hearing today and forced him to leave the premises after he had tried to politely ask questions of FCC commissioners," read the story on the National Press Club Web site.

The "hearing" was the FCC's public meeting at which O'Rielly and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai voted to launch the rollback of Title II, a move that has inflamed net neutrality activists and helped generate more than 2 million comments to the FCC.

The reporter in question was John Donnelly, who happens to be chairman of the Press Club's Press Freedom Team.

Donnelly told the Press Club that he had the run-in with FCC security when he "strolled in an unthreatening way" toward O'Rielly. He said guards "pinned" him against the wall then forced him to leave the building.

“I could not have been less threatening or more polite,” Donnelly told Julie Shoo, who reported the story for the Press club web site. “There is no justification for using force in such a situation.”

“Donnelly was doing his job and doing it with his characteristic civility,” said NPC President Jeff Ballou, according to Shoo's report. “Reporters can ask questions in any area of a public building that is not marked off as restricted to them. Officials who are fielding the questions don’t have to answer. But it is completely unacceptable to physically restrain a reporter who has done nothing wrong or force him or her to leave a public building as if a crime had been committed.”

Ironically, the incident came at a meeting where FCC Chairman Ajit Pai went out of his way to praise the FCC security guards--it is National Police Week. "The dozens of security officials here go the extra mile each and every day to keep us safe and to make sure we can do our jobs free from interruption," said Pai.

Pai also said he had visited with all the guards to thank them for their service. He referenced "Fred," but it was not clear whether that was the Frederick Bucher identified in the NPC story as one of the security guards who restrained Donnelly.

There had been protests outside the FCC before the meeting, and Pai has been the target of some racist Tweets and threatening comments in connection with his proposal to roll back Title II.

"We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats," said an FCC spokesperson, who had no further details on the incident. 

O'Rielly's office had no comment, but after Donnelly tweeted about the incident, O'Rielly responded: "John, just saw your tweets. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you in hallway. Had just finished taking press questions." Followed by "Happy to answer any questions you may have. Can talk later tonight of tomorrow. I did't see anyone put a hand on you," followed by a final "I am very sorry this occurred."

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