Parliament started last week discussing package of legislative amendments to the law on broadcasting, which envisage measures for more financial transparency of broadcasters, reforming rule of composition of public TV’s board of trustees and transforming Adjara TV’s status into public broadcasting.
The bill has been initiated by the Georgian Dream coalition, based on proposal which have long been pushed for by a group known as Coalition for Media Advocacy.
GPB’s Board of Trustees
Change of rule of composition of the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) board of trustees is one of the key elements of the bill.
According to existing rule, the President selects three candidates for each seat in the board and then the Parliament approves one of those three candidates.
The proposed bill offers to reduce number of board members from current 15 to nine, who will take their seats for a six-year term, and to exclude the President from the process of selecting board members.
Three members, according to the bill, have to be approved by the parliamentary majority, three by the parliamentary minority group and other lawmakers who are not part of either parliamentary majority or minority groups.
Candidates for these six seats should be selected through competition by a nine-member commission, which should be established specifically for this purpose by the Parliamentary Chairman and should be composed of civil society representatives. The commission should nominate at least three candidates for each vacant seat in GPB’s board of trustees.
Two members of GPB’s board have to be selected by the Public Defender through competition and one seat will automatically go to chairman of board of trustees of yet to be formed public broadcaster of the Adjara Autonomous Republic.
The bill does not make it clear whether the sitting board of GPB should be replaced or not by the new one upon enforcement of these legislative amendments.
Lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority group say that pre-term termination of authority of sitting members of the board would amount to political meddling into GPB by the new authorities.
Georgian Dream lawmaker Eliso Chapidze, who is a sponsor of the bill, said during the hearing at the human rights parliamentary committee on March 15 that no final decision was yet made when the new rule of composition should be applied; she said there were two possible options: either to start composition of the new board immediately after the proposed bill is enacted or later, when term of authority of at least six sitting members of the board expires.
Discussions of the bill in the Parliament comes when GPB’s board of trustees became embroiled in controversy over its decision in early March to sack GPB’s director general Giorgi Baratashvili just two months after it elected him on this post. Baratashvili took his firing to the court, which ordered GPB’s board to suspend competition for selecting new head of public TV pending its verdict into Baratashvili’s lawsuit.
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.
For its decision to sack Baratashvili, 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 is now actively campaigning against the sitting board and is calling for its disbanding.
The proposed bill also offers to give the Parliament the right to disband GPB’s board of trustees in case of GBP’s budget problems or failure to fulfill its content-related programming priorities. Two-third majority of lawmakers will be required for the Parliament to disband GBP’s board.
The bill also envisages increasing functions of GPB’s board, including through giving the board right to amend GPB’s budget upon its own initiative; to approve maximum level of salaries and bonuses for broadcaster’s employees; to set terms for employment contracts for GPB’s staff.
The bill envisages measures for making broadcasters’ finances transparent.
The bill, if approved, will obligate individual and legal entities having broadcast licenses to fill in and make public their property declarations.
According to the bill, before May 1 of each year broadcast license holders should submit to the Georgian National Communications Commission report on sources of their finances together with audit reports; the same information should also be posted on broadcaster’s website.
Nationwide broadcast license holders will have to submit to GNCC and post on their websites before May 1 of each year information about their assets and liabilities, as well as about investments, including by indicating identities of investors, made during the reporting period.
Nationwide broadcast license holders, according to the bill, will also make public once in a quarter information about their advertisement revenues.
Public Broadcaster of Adjara Autonomous Republic
Currently the Batumi-based Adjara TV is under the subordination of the Adjara Autonomous Republic’s government.
The proposed bill offers to reform this television channel on public broadcasting model and to formally link it with the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
The bill offers to allocate funds for Adjara TV’s operations from GPB’s budget on the condition that it should be at least 15% of GPB’s annual funding.
Adjara TV should have its five-member board of trustees, whose chairperson will automatically have a seat in GPB’s board.
All five members of Adjara TV’s board will have to be confirmed by the Autonomous Republic’s local parliament.
The proposed bill, if approved, will obligate cable providers to transmit television channels with news programs beyond pre-election period.
The issue was high on the agenda ahead of the October, 2012 parliamentary elections.
The legislative amendment, passed in June 2012, made this rule, known as “must-carry”, legally binding for the cable providers, but only for 60 days before the polling day. Although it was no longer legally binding, after the October elections the rule remained in practice.