The opposition and the authorities have agreed to create a new board of trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Nino Burjanadze, the acting president, said on January 15.
She told journalists that the new board would be set up “through agreement between the authorities and the opposition and to a certain extent on a parity basis.”
Currently there are only three members - Pridon Todua, Rusudan Sebiskveradze and Mamuka Kherkheulidze - in the GPB BoT, in what is meant to be a nine-member body, and is effectively non-functional. Burjanadze said she had talked with the three members, all of whom had agreed to quit in order to pave the way for the new board.
“This [new] board will have very serious functions. I am sure that it will raise public trust in the Georgian Public Broadcaster and the newly introduced standards will be acceptable for all political groups,” Burjanadze said. She added that even she was unhappy with the station's level of professionalism.
She stressed that journalists would be unaffected by the proposed reforms.
The GPB has recently been at the centre of opposition criticism, with complaints being made that the station was failing “to appropriately reflect” political developments in the country and was biased in favor of the authorities. Although similar accusations have been leveled at Rustavi 2 and Mze TV, the opposition has focused mostly on the GPB, as it is publicly funded.
GPB management has defended its position, saying its editorial policy is based on journalistic standards and a code of conduct, which, they say, other stations fail to adhere to.
“We hold that independence from the authorities does not mean loyalty to the opposition. This is something unique in the Georgian media environment,” Tamar Kintsurashvili, the GPB director-general, said on January 15.
She said that she welcomed a statement by Nino Burjanadze “regarding [political] consensus” on the GPB, but said creating a new BoT composed of political appointees was unacceptable.
The proposed new board will have to select a new general-director. Kintsurashvili said she would not reapply for the position if the board were constituted along party political lines.
“After the new board of trustees is formed, I will decide whether or not to seek the job. If the board is composed on a party basis, I will not, because I believe the public channel should be independent both from the legislative body and the opposition,” Kintsurashvili told journalists.
In a letter to President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili, Public Defender Sozar Subari, among other things, has also raised the issue of the GPB, saying the station was in urgent need of a new board of trustees.
“If the political will exists to make the television station really independent, this issue can be resolved quickly and easily,” Subari wrote. “If there is no such will, the allegations that the public broadcaster is not independent will continue; and the public will not trust it and debates and discussions will move to the street.”