Legislative amendments to the law on broadcasting “improve the current law, ensuring greater pluralism and transparency in the work of the public broadcaster,” OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatović said in a letter to Georgia’s Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze.
The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has commissioned a review of the package of bills, which envisage measures for more financial transparency of broadcasters, reforming rule of composition of Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) board of trustees and transforming Adjara TV’s status into public broadcasting. The analysis of the proposal was released by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on March 25.
The report in overall gives a positive review of the bill; it, however, notes that lack of provisions, defining how transition from the existing board of trustees of GPB to planned new one is made, represents “the main deficiency of the proposed reform”. It calls to make this transition “in a gradual and orderly fashion.”
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. 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.
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.
Georgian Dream lawmaker Eliso Chapidze, who is a sponsor of the bill, said earlier this month 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. 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.
OSCE-commission analysis of the bill says that proposed amendments “are in most cases improvements that provide for better possibilities for plurality, rather than the current major role for the President in appointment of the Board of Trustees.”
“However, it is important that any transition to a new system is made in a gradual and orderly fashion,” the report reads. “What is needed and what is lacking at the moment is a transitional system with provisions setting out how the change from one system to the other will be made. As the number of Trustees is reduced, there needs to be a system for undertaking this that still preserves the possibility for the Board of working efficiently. New requirements that may not be met by existing Trustees should normally only apply to new appointees with the existing ones serving out their term or the major part of their term, although a gradual phasing out of the existing Board will be necessary as the new one is to be smaller. The main deficiency related to the proposed amendments is the absence of transitional provisions governing the introduction of the new Board of Trustees. Even if the amendments are an improvement on the existing Broadcasting Law there is a risk that introduction of new criteria will be used to terminate the existing Board of Trustees in a precipitated and unorganised manner, which would disrupt the work of the Broadcaster.”
The report says that spelling out rotation procedures clearly is important so that “the entire Board is not new at any one time.”