Dear Ombudsman,

I am writing to complain about a decision by the
Department of Treasury to deny our media outlet, Crikey.com.au, access
to the 2005 Federal Budget lock-up for journalists on Tuesday May 10,
2005. The reason for this decision was given to us by the manager of
the TreasuryLiaison Unit, Mr Ray Gavin. Mr Gavin informed us that
because Crikey.com.au is not “mainstream” media it is not eligible to
attend the Budget lock-up, and that Treasury intends maintain what Mr
Gavin described as an “historical” attendance list at the Budget
lock-up. We have sought a review of the decision through Treasury, but
have been told that the decision will stand.

We believe the
exclusion of Crikey’s journalists from the Budget lock-up constitutes a
damaging restraint of our trade as professional journalists in a
democratic society. As we informed the Department of Treasury,
Crikey.com.au intends to publish a Budget edition at 8:30pm on the
night of the Budget. The edition will contain detailed media analysis
of the 2005 Budget and will, we believe, provide a valuable information
service for our 20,000 subscribers, many of whom are senior
practitioners in the fields of business, economics, politics,
government, the professions and the media.

We do not believe we
have been given an adequate explanation for our exclusion. The absence
of clear written criteria for admittance to the Budget lock-up makes
this a difficult case to argue, but on any possible criteria
Crikey.com.au is a serious, well-established, well-known and
professional media outlet that warrants inclusion in the lock-up,
especially in view the time constraints imposed by our 8.30pm Budget
edition.

Crikey has been operating for five years. It has an
email circulation of 20,000 subscribers (6,000 paid subscribers and
some 14,000 registered no-paying subscribers), as well as approximately
100,000 regular readers of our website. We have more than 170
subscribers with email addresses in Parliament House in Canberra,
including Government Ministers. We estimate that almost 1000 of our
paid subscribers work as political staff or advisers in State or
Federal politics, or in the public service.

Our two senior
political reporters have press gallery accreditation. Our journalists
often appear on radio and television to provide expert commentary, and
our readership figures dwarf the reach and influence of many media
outlets currently granted admission to the Budget lock-up.

We
find it difficult to understand that when some newspapers send as many
as 30 or 40 staff to the Budget lock-up to prepare material for the
next day’s publications, the Department of Treasury has refused Crikey
the ability to send just two reporters to prepare a special email
budget analysis to be published at 8.30pm on Budget night.

We
believe this act of Government will seriously damage Crikey.com.au
commercially and editorially. We believe Treasury’s decision
constitutes a blatant attack on free speech. We believe it wrongly
discriminates against internet media by maintaining an “historical”
attendance list at the Budget lock-up. We believe the decision fails to
recognise the enormous changes taking place in the world of media and
information delivery.

We ask, therefore, that as a defender of the people against the Government you investigate:

a) Whether the process for allocating places in the Budget lock-up is fair and transparent.

b) Whether there are grounds for the decision to be reversed.

c)
Whether the decision to refuse Crikey entry to the Budget lock-up
constitutes unfair discrimination against the internet medium.

d) Whether the decision to refuse Crikey entry to the Budget lock-up constitutes an assault on free speech.

e)
Whether the Treasury, as a government department, should be accountable
to the same standards as required by commercial entities under the
Trade Practices Act, and if so, whether Treasury’s decision to refuse
Crikey entry to the Budget lock-up constitutes an abuse of Treasury’s
market power.

You can reach me by email at [email protected]
. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Misha Ketchell

Crikey editor

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