The Lithuanian government rejected draft amendments to the law that would have allowed journalists continued free access to the information held by the Center of Registers. The audio recording of the government hearing on this issue was destroyed.
Free access to information limited
In the middle of September, the Center of Registers decided to discontinue its long-standing practice of providing information to journalists officially requesting it for free. According to the Center’s representatives, this practice was unlawful since it was not prescribed by the law. It was suggested that journalists, being business actors, should pay for the information provided by the Center of Registers at standard commercial rates.
Lithuanian journalists publicly appealed to the authorities, stressing that this “seriously violated the freedom guaranteed by the law and the Constitution to freely collect, receive and disseminate information”.
Audio recording of the government hearing destroyed
In response to the outrage, the Ministry of Transport and Communications prepared draft amendments to the law that would have allowed journalists to continue receiving the Center’s information for free. However, at a government hearing, it was decided not to approve the draft, returning it to the Ministry for improvement. Unofficially, it is said that the Prime Minister himself was against the media-friendly proposal.
When the journalists applied for access to the audio recording of this hearing, they were initially refused on the grounds of confidentiality. A few days later, the audio recording was destroyed.
And even though a few weeks later the government did issue a temporary decree to restore free access to the Center of Registers for journalists in the near future, there is still no word about restoring the audio recording.
Challenge to the freedom of speech
In the view of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, both the government hearing and the decision taken raised active public discussions, which means that the recording should be considered a document of public interest – something the government should have published, not destroyed. According to the Institute’s experts, actions like this hinder the ability of the media to collect information on issues important to society, denying the public its right to know.
Commenting on the situation, Lithuania’s president claimed that “most countries have long been treading the path of data openness, because open access to data has a positive impact on the economy, on the development of innovation, on state development, and on the daily life of citizens”.
A protest was held in front of the Palace of the Government, attended by several hundred people. The protesters were asking the Government to not limit media freedom and to give journalists open access to the data of the Center of Registers.