The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is concerned over proposed amendments limiting the currently unrestricted public access to the Business Registry of Bulgaria's Registry Agency. The amendments are expected to be approved by the Bulgarian Parliament during the coming days. This change could seriously curtail investigative reporting on the process of privatisation and company takeovers.
There are two types of business databases, according to Aleksander Kashumov, head of the legal team at Bulgaria's Access to Information Program. One contains general company data and the second stores contracts, protocols, shareholders' decisions, etc. While the former will remain open to the public, the latter will be restricted if the amendment proposed by the ruling party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, passes in Parliament. The amendment foresees that only legal practitioners will have access to the database of company cases. It is not clear, however, if other individuals, including journalists, will have any access, said Kashumov to SEEMO.
The proponents of the amendment argue that the restricted access to companies' case data would be a safeguard against fraud. Currently, all companies in Bulgaria are required to re-register by 31 December 2011.
SEEMO recalls that unrestricted public access to company cases databases has been an essential journalistic tool in uncovering corruption and irregularities. SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic calls on the deputies to seriously consider if the current law should be changed. Vujovic said: "Restricted access to the Registry Agency's databases will seriously affect journalists' access to information of public interest."