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Senators Query FCC Over Manhandling of Reporter After Meeting

Variety logo Variety 5/20/2017 Ted Johnson
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A group of senators have fired off a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, asking him for answers as to why a reporter was manhandled by a security guard as he tried to ask a question following a meeting on Thursday.

John M. Donnelly, a reporter for CQ Roll Call, said that he was shoved against a wall by two security guards after he tried to ask questions to an FCC commissioner.

“When Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed,” according to a release sent out by the National Press Club. According to Donnelly, he was then asked to leave the building.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) wrote in their letter that the incident was “disturbing” and added, “Given the FCC’s role as the primary authority for communications law and its regulatory role with respect to the media, the FCC should set a sterling example when it comes to supporting the First Amendment and freedom of the press for other government entities here in the United States and around the world.”

They also wrote that the incident “is not an isolated one and seems to be a part of a larger pattern of hostility towards the press characteristic of this Administration, which underscores our serious concern.”

A Republican senator, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), also expressed concerns over the incident.

“The Federal Communications Commission needs to take a hard look at why this happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said in a statement. “As The Washington Post pointed out, it’s standard operating procedure for reporters to ask questions of public officials after meetings and news conferences.   It happens all day, every day.   There’s no good reason to put hands on a reporter who’s doing his or her job.”

An FCC spokesman said that the agency apologized to Donnelly more than once. He said that they also let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert “based on several threats.”

At the meeting, the FCC took the initial steps toward rolling back a key provision of the net neutrality rules, an issue that has triggered demonstrations and heated rhetoric.

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