Fed’s Bernanke to start holding press conferences

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will begin holding press briefings, an effort to improve how the central bank communicates policy changes to the public, the Fed announced Thursday.

Bernanke will meet with reporters four times a year following regularly scheduled meetings of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee. The first briefing will be held after the April 27 meeting.

“The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy communication,” the Fed said in a statement. “The Federal Reserve will continue to review its communications practices in the interest of ensuring accountability and increasing public understanding.”

The Fed said it will broadcast the press briefings live on its website.


The Fed is following what already is standard practice for the heads of other major central banks, including the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan. They have long met with reporters in on-the-record sessions after policy meetings.

By contrast, the Fed historically has simply issued statements after its meetings without further explanation -- leaving economists, reporters and the public at large to decipher the wording and the implications for policy and the economy.

But the central bank has faced mounting pressure in recent years to be more accountable to the public. In an unprecedented move, Bernanke appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in March 2009 to discuss the Fed’s financial-system bailout decisions.

In July 2009 Bernanke held a town-hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo. to take questions from a live audience. ‘I’m answerable to the American people,’ he told the crowd.

Bernanke went back on “60 Minutes” last December to defend the Fed’s controversial decision to launch a new round of monetary stimulus -- a commitment to buy $600 billion in Treasury bonds by mid-June, in an effort to suppress longer-term interest rates and underpin economic growth.

Critics say the Fed is stoking inflation pressures by flooding the financial system with money. Bernanke, 57, has insisted that the economy needed more stimulus and that the Fed will be ready to begin tightening credit well before inflation becomes a problem.

The Fed’s secrecy about its lending to banks during the financial crisis also has come under fire. Bloomberg News last year successfully sued in federal court to get details about those loans released. On Monday the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by major banks to keep the details secret.

The Fed said it would report the information shortly.

-- Tom Petruno