Ongoing reform of the Georgian public broadcaster’s board, an already dragged out process, actively pushed for by media advocacy groups, is facing further delays after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 11 that a key provision of the law, based on which the Parliament embarked on reform process, is unconstitutional.
Last year the Parliament amended the law on broadcasting, introducing, among other issues, new rule of composition of the board of trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB); the new rule envisaged pre-term termination of authority of seven sitting members of the board from January, 2014.
In December, 2013 six members of the board filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court arguing that the provision of the law envisaging pre-term termination of their membership was unconstitutional.
On April 11 the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of applicants.
The ruling comes in the midst of ongoing process of composition of the new board of GPB. In accordance to the law, amended last year, the Parliament started composition of the new nine-member board earlier this year, but failed to complete it as lawmakers approved only four new members.
New competition was announced in March to fill five vacant seats of the new board; the process was nearing its end when the Constitutional Court’s ruling was delivered, which actually means that seven members of the previous board should retain their seats before their term expires.
Term of membership of four board members expires in 2015 and term of three others in 2017, according to Emzar Goguadze, chairman of the board, who was one of the applicants behind the lawsuit against the Parliament. That board became dysfunctional in October, 2013 after two of its members stepped down, leaving the board incapable to take any decisions because of lack of quorum.
The Parliament has yet to decide how it will address the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Some observers say that one of the possible options will be to amend the law and allow for the sitting members to retain their seats before their membership term expires in parallel to also allowing already elected new members to take seat in the board.
The respondent – representative of Parliament – argued during the adjudication that the new rule was required for securing composition of the new board transparently and it was impossible to combine new rule with preserving authority of sitting board members. The argument was rejected by the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court said that pre-term termination of authority of sitting board members can only be acceptable in extraordinary cases, for example, when the sitting board poses threat to GPB’s independence or its efficient operations. The court said that the respondent did not point at such necessity during the adjudication of the case. The court also said that the new rule of composition of the board, even though “pluralistic and effective”, does not create any necessity for pre-term termination of authority of sitting members.
Some lawmakers from the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority said that they disagree with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, but “respect” it. Some GD MPs also pointed that one of the judges, presiding over the case, Konstantine Vardzelashvili, was deputy justice minister in 2004-2006, suggesting that he has links with the previous authorities.
Lawmaker from the UNM parliamentary minority group, Sergo Ratiani, said that the GD parliamentary majority group, “created this deadlock, but now we should all think about how to overcome it”