Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Warning over privatisation

The CIoJ has called on the Government to ensure that privatisation of state agencies does not result in restrictions to journalists’ access to digital databases.There were fears that privatisation of the Land Registry could limit the ability of investigative journalists to seek information about corruption, special interests and questionable financial arrangements.

It has been reported that the government has quietly postponed the plan. The Institute is apolitical on the issue of privatisation, but urged caution in ensuring freedom of information access, and a continued quality of service.While still in government ownership, the Land Registry has been deleting historical background documents to changes in property ownership, thereby making difficult to check signatures and the paper trail in relation to house transfers.

The Institute also warned Companies House against scaling back the access to files on failed businesses going back 20 years.A proposal to restrict provision to only six years was viewed as a serious block on the public obtaining vital information on the record of company directors.

CIoJ President Mark Croucher warned: “All journalists need to be able to research the background of business people taking decisions that affect the working lives and consumer experience of ordinary people.” He added that “telescoping down the access period so drastically amounts to a default cover-up of behaviour and conduct that dodgy directors would prefer to be expunged.”

Companies House manages databases for UK companies, listing all directors, shareholders and annual returns of accounts.The agency’s proposal to reduce the time they keep records is the result of lobbying from business interests who wanted to reduce costs and restrict information on previously dissolved companies.