Top Pai Aide Says Press Release Was Blocked

Matthew Berry, chief of staff to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, took to Twitter earlier this week to suggest "FCC leadership" was attempting to prevent the commissioner from posting a press release excerpting critics of network neutrality regulation.

Pai has been extremely outspoken in his criticism of chairman Tom Wheeler's plan—he calls it the President's plan—to reclassify ISPs under some Title II regs as a way to support new network neutrality rules.

Asked what Berry meant by a Feb. 18 tweet saying "FCC leadership now trying to block Commissioner Pai's press releases from FCC website. So much for Open Internet!," Berry said that the FCC's Office of Media Relations "told us that the Office of General Counsel had directed that our statement be removed from the website."

FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart suggested that, rather than "blocking," the FCC was "clarifying."

“The FCC’s Office of Media Relations serves the entire agency – including all Commissioners," she said in a statement. "In this specific incident, OMR promptly posted a release from Commissioner Pai to the website as received, according to standard practice. Once the release was live, it became apparent that the release, as crafted, appeared to represent that it was from the entire Commission, not just Commissioner Pai. Commissioner Pai’s office agreed to clarify the release, and OMR worked to post the replacement as quickly as possible.”

Berry was not assuaged. "We 'agreed' to clarify the release because we were told that it wouldn’t be put back up on the website if we didn’t do what they wanted," he told B&C/Multichannel News. "The press release had Brendan Carr, who works in our office, as the press contact. So the idea that we “crafted” the release to hide our office’s involvement is absurd. If they had a problem with the release, they should have to come to us first to discuss rather than removing it from the website unilaterally and then contacting us." 

"Before the press release was removed, the media relations office contacted Brendan Carr, the press contact listed on the release," said Hart. "Commissioner Pai's office provided a clarified version of the release, which was reposted on the website as soon as possible."

Pai has been on something of a Title II takedown tour, taking aim at reclassification in statements, on editorial pages, and in his own press conference in the FCC commission room, often painting the Wheeler proposal as a proxy for President Obama—the chairman has said he was already pivoting toward that approach. As the minority commissioner, Pai's primary power is the platform his post provides him, and his expected stinging dissent from the Title II vote Feb. 26.

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.