The U.S. Department of Labor issued stricter procedures last week for media organizations participating in the department-named "press lock-ups," which allows selected reporters a 30-minute window in a highly-controlled environment to preview economic data before the information is made public.
Media organizations say the new procedures, which limit their use of computers and Internet access, are too restrictive, but the department maintains that they're essentially doing the press a favor by even providing them with advance releases of data.
"This is a courtesy we provide. And let me say it's one that I think is important and very well worth doing," said Carl Fillichio, the department's senior adviser for communications and public affairs to reporters during a conference call on Monday. "But it – and participation by news organizations in it – is not a right."
Charles Glasser, media counsel for Bloomberg News, sent a letter to the department complaining about the new policy.
"Make no mistake, these rules that handcuff the financial press does not merely represent an inconvenience to reporters, nor merely present a "new learning curve" for the press to accept. Instead, the new rules represent a very serious threat to the public's ability to receive critical public information on a fast and accurate basis," he wrote in the letter.
In what the Labor Department claimed is an attempt to control the time-sensitive information, reporters will no longer be allowed to use personal computers and software to write and transmit stories from the press lock-up facility. These new measures are aimed at eliminating and preventing any security vulnerabilities, such as information breaches due to technological advances, according to an agency spokesperson.
But some media organizations are objecting to the new restrictions.
"There are few government reports that have the wide-ranging impact on the market as the Department of Labor statistics, and we are troubled by the degree of government restrictions on how the press can fully and accurately report this data to the public," said Matthew Winkler, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, in a statement.
Starting July 6, journalists will no longer be allowed to bring any personal effects into the press lock-up room, including bags, outerwear, writing utensils, cell phones, calculators and any other electronic devices. The department will provide paper and pens for the reporters. Coats and umbrellas may also be provided by the department for broadcasters doing live shots in inclement weather, according to the department spokesperson who declined to be named.
The department also asked all the media organizations utilizing the press office to remove all of their equipment. The department will provide each organization with computer equipped with "a Windows operating system, a Web browser, word processing software, and Adobe Reader application and secure file transfer."
At a specific time, the department will lift the bar on the Internet, and the reporters will be able to then transmit their stories.
Earlier this week, in a conference call hosted by the Labor Department, news organizations expressed concern that new restrictions will limit their scope of reporting in a timely manner, as all media equipment now permitted in the lock-up room is provided by the department.
Under these new measures, all media organizations now involved will be required to reapply for department issued credentials that are good for one year. Department employees will select which organizations are granted access to the press lock-up facility based on newly set criteria. According to the department's new policy, credentials will be given to news organizations that are "primarily journalistic enterprises" and that "are likely to contribute significantly to public understanding through the dissemination of original news, analysis and/or opinion."
Each year, media organizations will be required to submit a continuation request for the department's consideration. The department holds the power to revoke these issued credentials, granting access to the press lock-up facility at anytime, if a member of the media violates the department's News Organization Agreement. Currently, about 17 news organizations are involved the department's lock-ups, according to an agency spokesperson.
The Labor Department is not the only federal agency that participates in press lock-ups. Other agencies that provide journalists with pre-release access to economic information are the Department of Commerce, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy.
All requests for credentials are due no later that April 24. News organizations will be informed by May 8 of their credential status.