Giorgi Baratashvili, former general director of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), who was sacked by GPB’s board just two months after being elected on this post, has filed a lawsuit asking for invalidating board’s decision on his dismissal.
As an interim measure, pending court’s final decision, Baratashvili has asked the Tbilisi City Court to order suspension of an ongoing competition for the vacant position of GPB’s general director announced by the board after his dismissal.
Deadline for applying for the vacant post expires in the evening on March 14; there were twenty applicants as of March 13. The court is expected to decide about interim measure within next three days.
The main argument, cited in the lawsuit in support for motion to invalidate board’s decision, is a claim according to which the decision on dismissal was voted by the board with lack of required quorum.
There are 15 seats in GPB’s board of trustees, but actual number of its members now stands at 13 as two seats remain vacant.
According to the law, the board of trustees requires two-third of majority of all the members of the board in order to endorse a decision on dismissal of GPB’s director.
Nine members of GPB board voted in favor of Baratashvili's dismissal.
Natia Kapanadze, head of the Media Legal Defense Center at the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, who provides legal counsel to Baratashvili, said that GPB’s board of trustees was not authorized to take such decision with the support of nine members. She says that such decision required support of at least 10 members, that is two-third of all the seats in the board, not just actual sitting members.
Board’s decision to sack Baratashvili on March 4 came few days after Baratashvili fired head of newsroom of GPB’s First Channel, Khatuna Berdzenishvili. After she was sacked, Berdzenishvili accused Baratashvili of meddling in editorial policy; she claimed that she was sacked because of not yielding to pressure from Baratashvili to provide news coverage favorable for PM Ivanishvili’s government. Baratashvili denied allegations and said that Berdzenishvili was dismissed because of “reorganization”, but instead offered her one-year contract on the position of his advisor for political programs.
The board indicated that the reason behind its decision was not that Baratashvili decided to sack head of the newsroom – board has no authority to interfere with general director’s staff-related decision, but the failure to prevent “a crisis situation”, which put GPB in the center of “political speculations and insinuations”.
The board, which the critics have long been accusing of a failure to provide proper oversight over developments within the broadcaster, came under fire from part of the GPB employees, some of them are from broadcaster’s senior management. This group of GPB employees are now actively campaigning against the sitting board and calling for its disbanding.
Meanwhile a draft of legislative amendments has been initiated in the Parliament, which among other issues, also envisages introduction of a new rule of composition of GPB’s board of trustees.
According to existing rule, the President selects three candidates for each vacant seat in the board and then the Parliament approves one of those three candidates. All sitting members of the GPB’s board are elected by the previous parliament.
The proposed bill envisages change of this rule and offers to reduce number of seats in the board from 15 to nine. Three members, according to the bill, has to be approved by the parliamentary majority, three by the parliamentary minority group and other lawmakers not part of the parliamentary majority group; two members have to be selected by the Public Defender and one seat will automatically go to chairman of board of trustees of yet to be formed public broadcaster of the Adjara Autonomous Republic.