O'Rielly Says Editorial Privilege System Is Broken

Republican FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly blogged Monday that the FCC's process for finalizing and releasing its orders and other documents is a "broken system."

The FCC has yet to release the final order on its network neutrality rule vote Feb. 26. At that public meeting, O'Rielly objected to granting editorial privileges on the item, which means post-vote edits to the item, but was outvoted by the Democratic majority.

In the blog, O'Rielly said that the post-adoption process needs fixing, particularly given that more than technical edits are made to a document after it has been voted.

"One might assume, based on the name, that the scope of 'editorial privileges,' if they did exist, would be limited to non-substantive edits, such as correcting typos and updating cross-references in footnotes," O'Rielly said. "In my former job [as a congressional staffer], we called them technical and conforming edits. At the Commission, however, the Bureaus or Offices often do much more substantial editing, including adding substantive and significant rebuttals to Commissioners’ dissents and providing sometimes lengthy responses to ex parte arguments that had not been incorporated into the draft prior to the vote," he said. "I do not believe that such substantive changes should be made under the guise of 'editorial privileges.'"

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has explained the time between the Feb. 26 vote and release of the final order as partly a court directive to take into account the dissents to a decision, but O'Rielly says the FCC process is backwards.

"I recognize that the Commission must respond to all arguments in the record and has argued that this includes those made by dissenting Commissioners," he said. "But the fact that significant editing must occur after the fact is simply proof that there is insufficient engagement with all of the Commissioner offices in advance of a vote.

"Even so, I try to make my views known well in advance of receiving an item, including by issuing blog posts with my principles that I share with the relevant Bureaus or Offices, and again when the item is before the full Commission prior to a vote. It should not be surprising that, if those principles are ignored or violated, that my dissenting statement will highlight them. Accordingly, there should be no need to respond to my statements after the fact."

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.