Parliament passed with its second and third, final reading on April 8 amendments to the law on broadcasting, envisaging measure to make broadcast media ownership transparent.
This draft, which was passed with its first reading in December, will ban ownership of broadcasters by offshore-registered firms. GNCC and broadcasters, according to the amendments, will have to make information about ownership publicly available on their respective websites.
Citing the need of further consultations and improvement of the draft, particularly in respect of financial transparency of broadcasters it was decided back in December to postpone its final approval.
The existing law obliges broadcasters to submit once in a year to the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) information “sources of finances” accompanied by financial audit.
Newly formulated amendment, which was passed on April 8, envisages that a broadcaster should provide GNCC with information also involving a detailed breakdown of revenue from advertisement, sponsors and donations.
There was a call to oblige broadcasters to make their financial accounting and audit based on international standards, but the ruling party lawmaker rejected the proposal on the grounds that it would be inappropriate to differentiate on the legislative basis audit service providers; another argument was that requiring from broadcasters to make their audit based on international standards would significantly increase their expanses for audit, which would be a serious financial burden especially for small broadcasters in the regions.
The broadcasters, according to the amendments, will have to put their ownership structure in line with the new requirements before January, 2012, which means that the most watched Georgian television station, Rustavi 2, will see changes in its ownership within next eight months.
70% of Rustavi 2 TV shares are owned by Degson Limited, which is registered in British Virgin Islands and no further information about this firm is available. 30% of shares in Rustavi 2 TV are owned by Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), a conglomerate founded by lawmaker from the ruling party, Davit Bezhuashvili - a brother of Gela Bezhuashvili, chief of the Georgian intelligence service.
According to the amendments, a broadcast license seeker will have to submit to GNCC information about sources of finances of its planned programming.
The amendment will also oblige the government to prepare the proposals on reorganization of the state-owned Adjara TV before January 1, 2012 so that to put its status in line with the law, which bans ownership of broadcasters by the governmental bodies. Adjara TV is now owned by the government of Adjara Autonomous Republic.