After halting subpoenas issued to two Dow Jones & Co. columnists on Feb. 7, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that its staff is preparing guidelines for demanding information from journalists.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said that neither he, nor any of the SEC's commissioners, had been consulted before the agency's enforcement division subpoenaed the two Internet writers. The agency, which is investigating a California stock-research firm , later demanded materials from and financial commentator Jim Cramer.

Cox said that he doesn't foresee such guidance including a blanket rule that would require him to approve any subpoenas issued to journalists, but he did say that some guidelines should be followed, such as alerting public affairs officials.

He said that he would prefer that the SEC exhaust other avenues before turning to the news media, which has a First Amendment right to gather information without government interference. He said that he supported the "least intrusive" means of dealing with the press in SEC investigations and also wanted to ensure that any information demanded of reporters would be "of objective importance" in an investigation.

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