“We, representatives of journalists and the media, do not approve that, under the guise of national or international law, public authorities could substantially limit the definition of a public person and thus deprive society of its right to information,” the Lithuanian media said in a joint statement published on Friday.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania ruled by way of an order from which no appeal shall lie, that Atvira Klaipeda had violated data protection rules as its article about public procurements of a municipal company had specified the identity of the owner of a procurement participant and his relationships with an employee of the municipal company.
The news website said in its article that the sole shareholder of the company, which had been declared the winner in the public procurement of light pole supports, was the son of a former accountant of Gatviu Apsvietimas (Street Lighting), the abovementioned municipal company.
The Public Procurement Council advised terminating the contract awarded in this procurement due to a breach of the principle of transparency.
The Office of the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics ruled that the purpose of the article could have been achieved without disclosing personal data of the said shareholder, i.e. without specifying his name and surname as well as personal relationships.
The news website challenged the Office’s decision in courts, which, however, sided with the inspector.
Meanwhile, the media community said in its joint statement that it stood “in solidarity with the Editorial Board of Atvira Klaipeda, whose aspiration to defend the right to information must be taken to the Constitutional Court or even international legal authorities. Our community fully supports these initiatives”.
According to the statement, public authorities increasingly used the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a pretext to limit access to information or ban it altogether.
“In our opinion, this and subsequent decisions by administrative courts fundamentally alter the practice of democracy, the public right to information, and journalists’ right to accurately inform the Lithuanian society,” the statement said.
The joint statement was signed by various Lithuanian national and regional media outlets, their associations, individual journalists, as well as news agency BNS.
The journalist community stressed in the statement that “we are convinced that the extremely diligent and excessive protection of the privacy of public individuals must not deprive the public of its right to information about the non-transparent activities of public authorities and their associates, possible corruption, and nepotism”.
The statement also reminded that “the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania has repeatedly emphasized the fundamental role of the constitutional freedom of information, including the right of the media to seek, receive, and disseminate information and ideas without hindrance, ensuring and developing the ideal of an open, just, and harmonious civil society”.
“We are convinced that the administrative courts’ novel practices contradict these values outlined by the Constitutional Court and prevent the media from contributing to the maintenance and preservation of the democratic order. The decisions by the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics and some courts form a dangerous precedent, denying the previously established principles of the public’s right to information and freedom of speech,” the statement concluded.