Six weeks after a public disagreement over how the issuance of subpoenas to two business columnists was handled, the Securities and Exchange Commission has released guidelines describing exactly when and how journalist subpoenas will be issued in the future.

The agency's five commissioners unanimously approved the policy, which says that reporters will only be subpoenaed after all over options for obtaining information have been exhausted and top agency officials have signed off on the order.

Noting that such subpoenas have been, and will remain, very rare, the agency said in a statement, " 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"

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox announced the policy at a news conference with the SEC enforcement division's director, Linda Thomsen , at his side.

The new policy, based partly on procedures in place at the Justice Department, takes effect immediately and carries the threat of disciplinary action, ranging from reprimand letters to termination.

Cox criticized his staff in February, after the enforcement division subpoenaed two Dow Jones & Co. reporters in connection with an investigation without seeking his approval.

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