Press Club to FCC: ‘Hands off journalists!’

The National Press Club is filing an objection over what it says is the “manhandling” of a reporter who tried to ask a question of a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

Ironically, John M. Donnelly, of CQ Roll Call, chairs the Press Club’s Press Freedom team.

According to a press release, Donnelly was given the heave-ho on Thursday when he asked a question when commissioners weren’t in front of a podium.

Donnelly said he ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions when they were not in front of the podium at a scheduled press conference.

Throughout the FCC meeting, the security guards had shadowed Donnelly as if he were a security threat, he said, even though he continuously displayed his congressional press pass and held a tape recorder and notepad. They even waited for him outside the men’s room at one point.

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. O’Rielly witnessed this and continued walking.

One of the guards, Frederick Bucher, asked Donnelly why he had not posed his question during the press conference. Then Bucher proceeded to force Donnelly to leave the building entirely under implied threat of force.

Bucher has been implicated in at least one other incident involving harassment of a journalist. Bloomberg News reporter Todd Shields told Donnelly today that Bucher took his (Shields’) press badge last July when Shields was talking to a protester at an FCC meeting. The agency later apologized and said it restored Shields’ credentials.

“I could not have been less threatening or more polite,” Donnelly said of today’s encounter. “There is no justification for using force in such a situation.”

“The FCC and other government buildings are paid for by U.S. tax dollars, and officials who work there are accountable to the public through its representatives in the media,”
Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said.

The demanded an apologize and a recognition of journalists’ right to cover public events.