Pai: FCC Media Relations Budget Should Be Axed

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai took aim at the agency's media relations efforts in testimony at a House Appropriations Committee Budget hearing this week.

Pai, a Republican, has been critical of press briefings previewing FCC agenda items before they are circulated to him and other commissioners, pointing out that he is prevented from talking about those same items with outside parties and sometimes only learns about them via the press before getting to see them himself.

Pai asked the committee to "carefully examine" the FCC's budget request for media relations.

He pointed out that, for fiscal year 2017, the FCC was requesting 15 full-time employees (FTEs) for the media relations office, comparing that to the Federal Trade Commission's request for only 10 FTEs.

"I don't know why the FCC's media relations office should be 50% larger," he said, but suggested he had his suspicions as why the extra staffers were requested. "I do know there has been a disturbing mission creep at the FCC over the last couple of years when it comes to media relations."

He said nonpublic information is often shared with the press, "while commission offices are often left in the dark."

The FCC has increasingly offered up senior staffers to discuss upcoming agenda items. Pai has said that is an opportunity to spin the chairman's proposals while he can't share any details about the plan himself.

Pai said that if the media relations office has the time to engage in activity he said was more suited to a partisan political campaign, its budget should be cut "substantially."

“As Chairman Wheeler said at yesterday’s hearing, the Office of Media Relations’ mission is to provide information about the Commission’s activities and respond to media requests in a timely and accurate manner. Much of what the Commission does can be complicated or highly technical in nature, so the media relations staff must explain complicated issues in an understandable way," the Office of Media Relations said.

Both Pai and Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly have complained about the briefings and of having to learn about items from the press, including the FCC's Lifeline reform proposal, which Pai mentioned at the hearing, and navigation device rulemaking.

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.