Lawmakers decided on December 17 to postpone discussion of and voting on draft law on media ownership transparency with second reading for February, 2011, citing the need to continue consultations on the matter.
“I hope we will be able to achieve agreement on many issues, including on financial transparency… I think it will be logical to postpone discussion of the draft with its second reading,” MP Levan Vepkhvadze from Christian-Democratic Movement said at the parliamentary session on December 17.
MP Akaki Minashvili from the ruling party agreed and said that active consultations were ongoing with all the stakeholders and “the cooperation is already very productive.”
“But there are some issues which need to be agreed,” he added.
One of the key issues on which ongoing consultations are focused involves financial transparency of the broadcasters. The ruling party-proposed draft does not envisage a provision, which would enable a detailed tracking of financial resources and funding of the broadcasters – requirement actively pushed by a group of legal and media experts.
As a result of consultations with civil society groups it was already made possible to impose an outright ban on ownership of broadcasters by offshore-registered firms. The initial draft allowed offshore firms to own maximum of 10% of shares in broadcasters, but the ruling party agreed to remove this provision and the draft, passed with first reading on December 7, imposes an outright ban for offshore-registered firms to own shares in broadcasters.
Another reason cited by lawmakers behind the postponement is to study recommendations received on the draft by OSCE’s Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media.
Ruling party lawmakers said that they were ready to take into consideration some of those recommendations.
One of the recommendations says that amendments to the law on broadcasting should be made in “a manner so as not to stipulate new requirements for existing licence holders during an ongoing licence period, as this could violate the principle of legal certainty.”
If this recommendation is taken into consideration it will mean that the main principle behind the draft, which is to make ownership of major TV companies in Georgia transparent, may be postponed for years, before their current broadcast license expires. Judging from remarks of Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, it is not likely that the lawmakers will take this recommendation into consideration.
“Because of high public interest towards the matter, this law should also apply” to existing broadcast license holders, Bakradze said at the parliamentary session on December 17.