We note with concern that lately a number of public institutions have limited the access to information of the public, including the media, claiming in excess the need to protect personal data. These limitations, specifically targeting data on the businesses, possessions and interests of officials, affect the media’s access to information of public interest and thus the right of the media to accurate free expression.
The information on the income, wealth and interests of officials is kept in the databases of the State Registration Chamber and of the State Company Registru (State Information Resources Center under the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications). Although under the law the information about the founders of companies is public, media organizations have obtained paid electronic access to the register of companies only a few years ago, and in some cases the fees are excessive and unjustified. Several months ago, the Economic Council of the Prime Minister, through the E-Governance service, made public the register of companies, providing free access to the people who need that data. However, the register does not include data on the founders of companies; they still charge for such information.
In the last couple of weeks, the National Center for Personal Data Protection of Moldova adopted a number of decisions on restricting access to the data about the founders of companies, referring to alleged cases of abuse of personal data. Thus, on 27 May 2015 the National Center for Personal Data Protection carried out a surprise inspection at the State Registration Chamber, noting the “disclosure / sale of personal data”, and issued a decision on stopping on the spot the processing and dissemination of personal data regarding the beneficiary owners of companies.
The transparency of the information about the founders of companies is a mandatory requirement of the regulations related to open data, access to information, freedom of expression in all EU states, which grants to all people, including journalists, the freedom to be informed and to inform the public in an accurate reasonable manner about the involvement of any economic entities in financing political players, money laundering, fraud etc. On 20 May 2015, the EU Parliament adopted a decision providing that the owners of companies, including those in offshore zones, be listed in the register of companies. According to the European Parliament, these new provisions are “to the benefit of all people, including investigative journalists”, and the new Directives are aimed “against money laundering and seek to facilitate combating economic crimes and illicit financing of terrorism”. In addition, recently the EU authorities decided to provide access to the Swiss banks' data, including the data on the names and addresses of account holders, for the same purpose, namely to prevent money laundering and financial fraud. Thus, currently Moldovan journalists have access to the register containing data on the companies in all EU countries, but not in our country.
In Moldova, a state that reports high corruption scores, access to data about the founders of companies is essential. The signatory organizations qualify as abusive the actions aimed at limiting access to the information on founders and shareholders of companies, as well as the fees that the journalists are expected to pay to use such data of public interest while carrying out journalistic investigations. We urge the Government and relevant institutions to abolish the decisions limiting access to information of public interest and eliminate the impediments affecting press freedom.
We urge the Delegation of the European Union in Moldova, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Council of Europe to take note of the limitations and encourage the Moldovan authorities to give up excessive action in this area, and to open the data of public interest.
Independent Press Association
Independent Journalism Center
Electronic Press Association
Center for Journalistic Investigations
Committee for Press Freedom
Association of Independent TV Journalists
Young Journalist Center of Moldova
NewsMaker Web Portal