A House panel this morning encouraged the Labor Department to abandon its announced changes to the way it releases unemployment data and other market-moving statistics. Media groups protested almost immediately when the Labor Department announced on April 10th that it would force media groups to rip out equipment from the labor Department’s press room and require reporters to draft stories on government computers as part of wholesale changes intended to prevent early leaks of jobless claims and other economically significant information.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press*, testified on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative that the plan to require reporters to use government computers crossed a line that the First Amendment drew to separate the press from the government.
In April, the Department of Labor announced its intention to change the process for its “lock-ups,” secured areas where the Department had been regularly providing detailed economic information to selected reporters, on-site, so that they could prepare stories and release them simultaneously once the information could become public.
As Dalglish explained, the current technology and procedures “help ensure the information is locked up before the release time and flows to the public at that moment the Labor Department has designated. They help ensure reliable, secure, timely dissemination of market-moving information to a
broad audience.” Nor would it be cheap to overhaul the existing lock-up arrangements; Dalglish noted that “[o]ne media entity estimated it has spent millions of dollars to ensure this system works.”
When SGI became aware of this proposal, we wrote to DOL Secretary Hilda Solis to urge that the Department explain its rationale for the proposed changes and work with representatives of the media to find a more efficient way to reach a satisfactory resolution. Once Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced he planned a hearing on the topic, the Labor Department began engaging in what media groups and the Labor Department have called productive discussions to resolve the dispute.(**)
* The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a member of SGI.
** The Associated Press, which published that story, is a member of SGI.