Ruling party-proposed draft, limiting offshore ownership of broadcast media, might be revised in the process of discussions to meet critics’ arguments that an outright ban instead of limiting is required, a senior ruling party lawmaker and a co-sponsor of the draft said on November 24.
According to the proposed draft, which was formally initiated by the ruling party lawmakers on November 12, a broadcast license holder cannot be a legal entity in which more than 10% of shares are owned directly or indirectly by offshore-registered entity or entities.
Critics say that the proposed draft falls short of the principle of “full transparency” of media ownership, which was announced by the ruling party last month; they say that in the condition when the proposed draft does not address financial transparency, leaving “10% loophole” will make it impossible to track funds funneled to the broadcasters from a firm registered in offshore.
“I do not think that this 10% is decisive in respect of transparency of media ownership. But discussions on the matter will continue; the final decision will probably be taken at a session of the parliamentary committee [on legal issues],” said ruling party lawmaker, Pavle Kublashvili, who chairs the committee on legal affairs.
He was speaking at a meeting with a group of legal and media experts in the Parliament on November 24.
Another source of criticism by a group of legal and media experts, which has been working on a separate package of media-related bill, is related to absence of provision in the ruling party-proposed draft that would secure financial transparency of broadcasters. Such a pledge was made when the initiative on “full transparency” of media ownership was first announced by Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze in October.
“Why it can’t be done at least what has been stated?” Nino Danelia, a media researcher and a member of the public broadcaster’s board, asked the ruling party lawmakers at the meeting. “The problem should be solved entirely.”
Danelia, who is a member of the group working on a separate package of media-related bill, also said that making broadcasters’ ownership transparent was not enough for improvement of the media environment in the country. “A comprehensive approach is needed,” she said referring to the package developed by the group of media and legal experts.
The package addresses not only ownership transparency issue, but also involves issues like easing access to public information – the problem over which many journalists are complaining increasingly recently.
The proposal also offers measures for reducing timeframe of lengthy practice of court deliberations into the cases when journalists are denied access to public information and waiving court fees for such cases. It also addresses broadcasters’ licensing issues, as well as problems related with conflict of interest in the broadcast media and clear-cut regulations for media advertisement.
MP Kublashvili reiterated on November 24, that at this stage only the ruling party-proposed draft would be considered by the Parliament, which would not incorporate elements from the package of bills proposed by the group of media and legal experts. He, however, also said that the proposals by the group could be discussed sometime in the future.