Policy Statement of the Securities and Exchange Commission Concerning Subpoenas to Members of the News Media
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., April 12, 2006 - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today issued the following statement concerning subpoenas to members of the news media:
Freedom of the press is of vital importance to the mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Effective journalism complements the Commission's efforts to ensure that investors receive the full and fair disclosure that the law requires, and that they deserve. Diligent reporting is an essential means of bringing securities law violations to light and ultimately helps to deter illegal conduct.
In this Policy Statement the Commission sets forth guidelines for the agency's professional staff to ensure that vigorous enforcement of the federal securities laws is conducted completely consistently with the principles of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press, and specifically to avoid the issuance of subpoenas to members of the media that might impair the news gathering and reporting functions. These guidelines shall be adhered to by all members of the staff in all cases:
(a) In determining whether to issue a subpoena to a member of the news media, the approach in every case must be to strike the proper balance between the public's interest in the free dissemination of ideas and information and the public's interest in effective enforcement of the federal securities laws.
(b) When the staff investigating a matter determines that a member of the news media may have information relevant to the investigation, the staff should:
(1) Determine whether the information might be obtainable from alternative non-media sources.
(2) Make all reasonable efforts to obtain that information from those alternative sources. Whether all reasonable efforts have been made will depend on the particular circumstances of the investigation, including whether there is an immediate need to preserve assets or protect investors from an ongoing fraud.
(3) Determine whether the information is essential to successful completion of the investigation.
(c) If the information cannot reasonably be obtained from alternative sources and the information is essential to the investigation, then the staff, after seeking approval from the responsible Regional Director, District Administrator, or Associate Director, should contact legal counsel for the member of the news media. Staff should contact a member of the news media directly only if the member is not represented by legal counsel. The purpose of this contact is to explore whether the member may have information essential to the investigation, and to determine the interests of the media with respect to the information. If the nature of the investigation permits, the staff should make clear what its needs are as well as its willingness to respond to particular problems of the media. The staff should consult with the Commission's Office of Public Affairs, as appropriate.
(d) The staff should negotiate with news media members or their counsel, consistently with this Policy Statement, to obtain the essential information through informal channels, avoiding the issuance of a subpoena, if the responsible Regional Director, District Administrator, or Associate Director determines that such negotiations would not substantially impair the integrity of the investigation. Depending on the circumstances of the investigation, informal channels may include voluntary production, informal interviews, or written summaries.
(e) If negotiations are not successful in achieving a resolution that accommodates the Commission's interest in the information and the media's interests without issuing a subpoena, the staff investigating the matter should then consider whether to seek the issuance of a subpoena for the information. The following principles should guide the determination of whether a subpoena to a member of the news media should be issued:
(1) There should be reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought is essential to successful completion of the investigation. The subpoena should not be used to obtain peripheral or nonessential information.
(2) The staff should have exhausted all reasonable alternative means of obtaining the information from non-media sources. Whether all reasonable efforts have been made to obtain the information from alternative sources will depend on the particular circumstances of the investigation, including whether there is an immediate need to preserve assets or protect investors from an ongoing fraud.
(f) If there are reasonable grounds to believe the information sought is essential to the investigation, all reasonable alternative means of obtaining it have been exhausted, and all efforts at negotiation have failed, then the staff investigating the matter shall seek authorization for the subpoena from the Director of the Division of Enforcement. No subpoena shall be issued unless the Director, in consultation with the General Counsel, has authorized its issuance.
(g) In the event the Director of the Division of Enforcement, after consultation with the General Counsel, authorizes the issuance of a subpoena, notice shall immediately be provided to the Chairman of the Commission.
(h) Counsel (or the member of the news media, if not represented by counsel) shall be given reasonable and timely notice of the determination of the Director of the Division of Enforcement to authorize the subpoena and the Director's intention to issue it.
(i) Subpoenas should be negotiated with counsel for the member of the news media to narrowly tailor the request for only essential information. In negotiations with counsel, the staff should attempt to accommodate the interests of the Commission in the information with the interests of the media.
(j) Subpoenas should, wherever possible, be directed at material information regarding a limited subject matter, should cover a reasonably limited period of time, and should avoid requiring production of a large volume of unpublished material. They should give reasonable and timely notice of their demand for documents.
(k) In the absence of special circumstances, subpoenas to members of the news media should be limited to the verification of published information and to surrounding circumstances relating to the accuracy of published information.
(l) Because the intent of this policy statement is to protect freedom of the press, news gathering functions, and news media sources, this policy statement does not apply to demands for purely commercial or financial information unrelated to the news gathering function.
(m) Failure to follow this policy may constitute grounds for appropriate disciplinary action. The principles set forth in this statement are not intended to create or recognize any legally enforceable rights in any person.
# # #