FCC's Pai: Vox Populi Kept FCC Out of Editorial Decisions

First Amendment award winner also decries squelching speech on campus

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says what stopped the FCC from going ahead with a plan to poll TV stations about their editorial decisionmaking was "the opposition of Americans from around the country and across the political spectrum."

The FCC was planning to conduct the "Critical Information Needs" study, but FCC chairman Tom Wheeler pulled the plug back in February 2014 after pushback, including notably and very publicly from Pai.

"My op-ed in The Wall Street Journal may have started us down the path toward this decision," he said, but it was the vox populi that compelled the FCC to stand down.

Pai made the comments while accepting the Media Institute's First Amendment award Wednesday (Oct/ 19) at an awards dinner in Washington.

He praised the institute for understanding that Americans must remain vigilant in defense of free speech and a fee press.

Pai pointed to political correctness on college campuses as a clear and present threat to speech. "I wish I could say that the past is prologue, and that the future of free expression is bright. But I’m not so sure. I fear that our cultural consensus on the importance of being able to speak one’s mind is eroding. And nowhere is that consensus more at risk than on college campuses," he said.

"It’s gotten so bad on campus that comedians, like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, are refusing to do shows for fear of offending a politically correct crowd," he said. "Rock noted that students are more and more intolerant “in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’

No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’ You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.”

Pai had a receptive audience in Media Institute President Patrick Maines, who has decried the suppression of speech on campus in the name of protecting students' sensibilities. 

Pai said called that a "progressive impulse to squelch speech on college campuses" that was "anything but progressive," adding: "[A]n academic culture pervaded by safe spaces, trigger warnings, and a fear of 'microaggressions' must be challenged if America is to preserve the first freedom embedded in our Bill of Rights."