O'Rielly Calls Out FCC Briefings, Blogs

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has taken aim at FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's practice of using blogs, fact sheets, and press briefings to outline items before they are voted by the commission.

In a blog post, he concedes the chairman arguably has the power to  "authorize any briefing or blog, even if it discloses nonpublic information," but that the rules state that needs to be in writing, official documents he says he wants to see but doubts exist.

He points out that commissioners are prevented by rule from disclosing any nonpublic information to outside parties, while "the Chairman, the Commission’s media relations team and select staff are not only allowed to openly discuss items, but also post blogs, tweet, issue fact sheets, brief the press, and inform favored outside parties about their content."

He points out that the rule states that "nonpublic information shall not be disclosed, directly or indirectly, to any person outside the Commission." That information includes "the content of agenda items"--with the exception of sunshine notices--and actions or decisions at close meetings or on items on circulation prior to their public release.

O'Rielly is not looking to stop the practice, but to expand it to the other commissioners and extend it to meetings with stakeholders.

"If the Commission wants the strongest and most defensible items, it needs to talk to the outside world, including interested and affected parties.... Similarly, Commissioners also need the opportunity to discuss ideas, problems, and alternative ways to do things than the prescribed proposal contained in any draft item. As it stands now, it is immensely frustrating to sit in ex parte meetings and be unable to test out other concepts and options or correct any misunderstandings of those in attendance." He says the result is weaker items.

"The chairman is always open to process reform ideas," responded Wheeler Press Secretary Kim Hart.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.