Treasury takes extra security measures to stop Budget leaks

By Claire Trevett

Tight restrictions on media because of 'greater market sensitivity' in recession Treasury has put in place a raft of new security measures for the Budget, saying heightened market sensitivity because of the economic downturn makes it necessary to take extreme caution against any early leaks.

The Budget goes public at 2pm tomorrow when Finance Minister Bill English stands to deliver it in Parliament. The rules governing early access to the documents - including the traditional "lock-up" of media and analysts - are much tighter this year, including requirements to sign "undertakings" not to break the embargo and security guards escorting media to the Press Gallery to watch Mr English's speech.

Treasury assistant secretary Gavin Lockwood said one of the main reasons was because there was greater market sensitivity in the recession.

"With the economy turning down, debt is up and that means there are much larger shifts in the Government's bond programme than there was previously. That is market-sensitive information so that sort of information getting out pre-embargo could be of real advantage to some."

Some measures have angered media - including the decision to halt the practice of delivering early copies to main media newsrooms to allow reporters to prepare stories ready to run at 2pm.

Other than reporters in the lock-up, this year only TVNZ and Radio New Zealand will receive early copies to help them prepare for live Budget special broadcasts from 2pm.

The decision to give exceptions has upset other media hoping to get Budget stories on websites early.

Mr Lockwood said there were tight restrictions on TVNZ and Radio NZ - including signing undertakings to use the early copies only to prepare for their radio and television broadcasts. Those working on websites would be unable to access it before 2pm.

Treasury officials would hand-deliver the documents and stay with the broadcasters until 2pm. TVNZ had to foot the costs for a Treasury official to fly to Auckland with the Budget.

Mr Lockwood said the consequences of breaching the embargo included being barred from future lock-ups or denied early access to the documents.

Rules for the traditional lock-up in Parliament for media and analysts from 11am on Budget Day have also been tightened, with all attending required to sign an undertaking not to break the embargo.

Media who need to leave the lock-up in time for Mr English's speech will be escorted by a security guard to the Press Gallery to ensure they do not call their newsrooms or return to offices to file instead.

Mr Lockwood said the rules had not been reviewed for several years, during which time the internet had become a greater force.

- NZ Herald

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