Press freedom concerns over ASIC Registry tender
MEAA has written to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann over press freedom concerns arising from the tender of the ASIC Registry database.
In the 2014 federal Budget, the government announced it would put the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Registry out to tender. The Registry is a searchable database containing information about companies, business names, company directors, banned and disqualified individuals, and numerous documents. It is a vital tool for journalists, allowing them to properly scrutinise businesses.
However, even before the tender, journalists have been complaining that the current charges to access information in the ASIC Registry are already high by world standards. It's feared that putting the Registry out to tender may lead to increases in charges - which would undermine to the principles of freedom of access to government information.
MEAA is also concerned that, as freelance journalists are increasingly providing editorial content for media outlets, higher access charges would be particularly harmful to them given that they would likely have to fund searches of ASIC databases from their own pockets and they lack the resources of a large media employer.
It's clear that the media needs to be able to scrutinise business as part of its role in a healthy functioning democracy.
MEAA warns: "Any restrictions placed on the ability to access information contained in the Registry, including an increase in any fees and charges for that access, would be of deep concern to journalists and media organisations. It would also be of concern if private sector entities were placed in a position of a conflict of interest regarding their operation of the Registry; particularly given that the Government has assured the community that the Government will retain ownership of the Registry’s data."
MEAA wants the Government to ensure that any legislative and regulatory changes, plus the contractual arrangements, will include cast-iron assurances that journalists and media organisations, as well as members of the community, will be able to access all the information contained by the Registry as they do now, and without any marked increase in the fees and charges currently applied for access.
Download MEAA's letter here.