As it it budget day in the UK, (The day the Chancellor announces changes to various tax rates) we have been inundated with speculation about what will be in the Chancellor’s budget. All prior to the announcement.
Now it is a tradition that the contents of the Chancellor’s red box (briefcase) remains sealed and a secret until it is announced in Parliament. It would be a breach or parliamentary protocol to announce it outside parliament. However there is always speculation and some of it seems more informed than others. This year there was talk of a couple of taxes being dropped or changed, even though in some cases the Chancellor was announcing that they would start formal consultation on the issue.
In other circumstances government announcements seem to be in the press hours, or in some cases, days, before they are officially announced. It is quite common for the morning news on BBC Radio 4 (and other news providers) to be saying, “Today at 12:00 there will be the announcement of the findings of this committee….and this is what they will say…”. Clearly pre-announcing something that has a formal announcement time, despite a moratorium.
Personally I find this irritating. Either it is being announced at 12:00 or it was announced earlier and the press can now use it. You should not have it both ways. You certainly should not be having early leaks of your quarterly earnings onto the market otherwise the financial market regulators (eg SEC or FSA) will be down on you like a ton of bricks to breaching market rules about the disclosure of information.
In the event of a war, clearly there is a responsibility not to disclose certain information, yet I saw “speculation” in the newspapers that the SAS were in Libya before the revolution had started and before non-domestic people were being encouraged to leave.
At other times it is clearly useful to “warm up” the audience to expect good or bad news. However we need to be clear about the difference between “speculation” and “informed opinion”. For instance, the closure of a factory should be announced after formal consultation with unions, but that does not mean it should leak. The union representatives hed to be trusted (Heresy 4) However, it make sense to be explaining the market conditions that are creating the circumstances under which the factory is to be considered for closure. Lets be frank, people are not stupid (Heresy 1). They can see that production and orders are dropping. They have probably wanted to do something about it for a while. They can see the writing on the wall. Also the rumour mill will have been working (as it works faster than you do (Heresy 8 ).
This whole process is about integrity. When is it right to seed information to fore-warn people. When is it correct, or even mandatory, that you keep everything under wraps until a formal announcement. When has it reached the stage when the information is so obvious that an announcement is necessary to prevent spurious speculation.
Clearly you must start to plan the communication campaign early. Who are you going to brief, when and about what. How will you ensure that the message is clear and that you are checking that the message has been received correctly. Who is going to say what, when, and how?
It is a fine line of judgement. What is important is that those on the inside with privileged information realise the importance of that information and their duty not to leak information in any way shape or form. As the wartime poster used to say, “Walls have ears”.