Parliament confirmed on December 27 only three new members of Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) board of trustees, leaving six seats in the board vacant.
At least seven members should have been elected by the Parliament in order to make new board of public TV operational to replace its current board; the sitting board is now actually defunct, which last month prompted the GD parliamentary majority group to amend the law and speed up the process of composition of new board under the new rules confirmed in late May, 2013.
As envisaged by the law, upon a proposal from the parliamentary speaker Davit Usupashvili, the Parliament established on December 12 a nine-member commission made up of media and civil society representatives, which was in charge of selecting candidates for GPB board membership.
Total of 68 persons, seeking GPB board membership, submitted applications of which 35 were shortlisted by the selection commission. The commission interviewed 35 shortlisted candidates – the process which was aired live on GPB’s second channel, and then selected 27 candidates – three contenders for each seat, as envisaged by the law.
According to the law, of those 27 candidates, selected by the commission, the GD parliamentary majority group is entitled to pick three candidates; UNM parliamentary minority group and other lawmakers who are not part of either parliamentary majority or minority groups is also entitled to choose and nominate three candidates out of those 27.
But GD parliamentary majority group picked only one candidate – Natela Sakhokia of the Tbilisi-based think-tank Strategic Research Centre, and UNM parliamentary minority group picked two – Ketevan Mskhiladze, an editor of Tabula news magazine’s English edition, and Ninia Kakabadze, a media and film critic.
According to the law, Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili was eligible to choose two candidates; he picked – Lela Gaprindashvili, a professor of philosophy at the Tbilisi State University and gender specialist, and Marina Muskhelishvili, a director of Tbilisi-based think-tank Centre for Social Studies.
One candidate, as envisaged by the law, was nominated by the legislative body of the Adjara Autonomous Republic; it was Geno Geladze, a chairman of Batumi-based non-governmental organization Institute of Democracy.
So because of GD and UNM parliamentary groups’ failure to select three candidates each, there were total of six contenders nominated and even if the Parliament endorsed all six the board would have anyway been ineligible to operate because at least seven seats should be filled to make the board operational.
Out of those six candidates, only three were confirmed – Ketevan Mskhiladze, who was picked by UNM MPs, was endorsed unanimously with 99 votes; Natela Sakhokia, who was picked by the GD lawmakers, was endorsed with 83 votes to 3, and Marina Muskhelishvili, who was named by the Public Defender, was confirmed with 82 votes to 17.
Geno Geladze, who enjoyed support of all nine members of the selection commission, and who was nominated by the legislative body of the Adjara Autonomous Republic, dominated by GD members, was voted down by the Parliament. The Parliament also turned down Public Defender’s nominee Lela Gaprindashvili and UNM’s nomination Ninia Kakabadze.
Parliament’s failure to finalize the process angered nine-member selection commission, which said in a statement on December 27: “By artificially impeding the processes, the political forces are still trying to control the public broadcaster.”
The selection commission said that all 27 candidates were selected as a result of “transparent” and “democratic” process, which was “unprecedented”. The commission called on the parliamentary speaker Davit Usupashvili to continue consultations with lawmakers to secure finalization of the process.
The process itself was also hailed by the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, which said that it has been monitoring it closely. In a statement on December 26, released before the Parliament’s failure to compose the board, the U.S. embassy said: “We commend Speaker Usupashvili and the Parliament for supporting a healthy and transparent process facilitating the creation of a new independent and professional GPB Board.”
Parliament’s handling of the issue after the candidates were already named was condemned by Coalition for Media Advocacy, a group uniting eleven civil society and media organizations. It said in a statement: “It is completely incomprehensible why the lawmakers failed to select necessary number of candidates from the submitted list. Remarks and actions by [lawmakers from GD] parliamentary majority group raise suspicion that they are interested not in de-politicization of the public broadcaster, but in exerting control over public TV. There is a threat that through new competition and through setting up of a new selection commission, the ruling coalition will try to compose the public broadcaster’s board based on political preferences.”