Parliament confirmed on May 31 with 84 votes to 4 with its third and final reading package of legislative amendments to the law on broadcasting, which envisages 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.
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 along with financial transparency of broadcasters.
According to existing rules, the President selects three candidates for each of the 15 seats in the board and then the Parliament approves one of those three candidates for each seat.
The draft of amendments, confirmed by the Parliament, envisages reducing number of board members from current 15 to nine, who will take their seats for a six-year term; the new legislative amendments exclude the President from the process of selecting board members.
The new rule, according to the bill will have to go into effect from January 1, 2014, meaning that the seating board of GPB will continue working till that date.
Three members, according to the new rule, have to be nominated 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.
One member will be nominated by the local legislative body of Adjara Autonomous Republic.
The bill also envisages giving 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. Three-fifth majority of sitting lawmakers, that is 90 votes, will be required for the Parliament to disband GBP’s board.
Public Broadcaster of Adjara Autonomous Republic
Currently the Batumi-based Adjara TV is under the direct subordination of the Adjara Autonomous Republic’s government.
The confirmed bill offers to reform this television channel on public broadcasting model and to legally and financially affiliate it with the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
The bill offers to allocate funds for Adjara TV’s operations from GPB’s budget; amount of funding should be at least 15% of GPB’s annual budget.
According to the bill GPB’s annual budget should be not less than 0.14%, instead of current 0.12%, of country’s GDP for previous year.
The bill envisages measures for making broadcasters’ finances transparent.
The bill, after it is enforced, 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 (GNCC) 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 have to make public once in a quarter information about their funding, including advertisement revenues.
The bill 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.
MP Chiora Taktakishvili of the United National Movement criticized the Georgian Dream coalition for discussing the bill with its second hearing on May 29, when the National Movement was boycotting the session in protest to the arrest of former ex-PM and UNM secretary general, Vano Merabishvili. She said that for this purpose the opposition was unable to submit its own alternative proposals.
Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili responded that the Parliament could not have suspended its activities because of absence of the opposition lawmakers. “Boycott cannot become an obstacle to discussing any bill,” he said.