NEW YORK—Federal Communications Commission guards’ resort to physical obstruction of a journalist today suggests that the Trump administration’s open hostility to the press is emboldening other government officials to test the boundaries of media freedom and democratic values, PEN America said in a statement today.

Veteran reporter John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call recounted being pinned against a wall today by two plainclothes security guards at the FCC headquarters in Washington as he peaceably tried to pose a question to Commissioner Michael O’Reilly.  O’Reilly appeared to disregard the incident unfolding before him. One of the guards, Frederick Bucher, who has been implicated in previous harassment of journalists, then asked Donnelly to leave the building under implied threat of force, according to the National Press Club.

Reporters are legally allowed to ask questions in any area of a public building where they are not explicitly restricted, though officials are not required to answer them.

“President Trump’s contempt for the press is setting a dangerous tone throughout his administration,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “The news today that FCC security guards manhandled John Donnelly for trying to ask a question of the commissioner beggars belief. This respected journalist was asking questions of public officials, in a public building, about a matter of tremendous public interest—the FCC’s vote on net neutrality. No matter what the President may say, government employees have a constitutional and moral responsibility to respect press freedom. The FCC’s chairman Ajit Pai must make it clear to all FCC employees that reporters have a right to do their jobs without fear of intimidation or expulsion from the building. The FCC should investigate this incident and take appropriate disciplinary measures.”

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Communications Director: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830