US-NEWS-TRUMP-EVANGELICALS-ABA

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 26, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to restrict the news media's ability to prepare advance stories on market-moving economic data, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that could create a logjam in accessing figures such as the monthly jobs report.

Currently, the Labor Department in Washington hosts "lockups" for major reports lasting 30 to 60 minutes, where journalists receive the data in a secure room, write stories on computers disconnected from the internet, and transmit them when connections are restored at the release time.

The department is looking at changes such as removal of computers from that room, and an announcement could come as soon as this week, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be identified. That could hinder the media's ability to provide headlines, comprehensive stories and tables at the exact release time.

The move would upend decades of practice, and media organizations including Bloomberg News and Reuters have challenged prior changes to procedures. The shift could also spur an arms race among high-speed traders to get the numbers first and profit off the data, raising questions about fairness in multitrillion-dollar financial markets.

Michael Trupo, a spokesman for the Labor Department, didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. The Commerce Department _ which provides advance access to its reports such as gross domestic product and retail sales at the Labor-hosted lockups _ referred questions on the matter to Labor.

Without news services transmitting their reports at the release time and allowing additional access points, the government may have to prepare its websites to handle potentially heavier loads under the new system, which could mean adding security measures or increasing the traffic capacity.

In 2012, the Labor Department under the Obama administration sought to alter lockups to require journalists to use government-owned computers to write their stories. Officials at the time framed the change as addressing security risks.

After protests from Bloomberg News and other news organizations, and a congressional hearing in which editors testified, the department agreed to allow the media to continue using their own equipment and data lines. Reporters are required to leave mobile phones and other electronic devices in lockers outside of the lockup room, along with personal effects such as umbrellas and purses.

The Labor Department move would follow a similar decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2018 to scale back lockups covering farm products, particularly the closely-watched monthly crop forecasts that typically move markets in soybeans, corn and wheat.

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