Private broadcasters and civil society organizations express concerns over the Public Broadcaster-related legislative proposal and urge President Giorgi Margvelashvili to veto the controversial amendments bill.
The proposal, sponsored by a group of thirteen ruling party lawmakers and approved by the Parliament on second reading last week, envisages further expansion of powers of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB).
- The legislative proposal lifts the Public Broadcaster from its obligation to observe the Law on Public Procurement. As a result, the company will no longer have to announce public procurement calls when purchasing media products or services;
- The Public Broadcaster will be able to place commercials throughout its entire airtime (currently it can do so only during sports and international events programs), except non-working days and working day primetimes (from 19:00 to 24:00). The total Length of commercials per 24 hours will increase from 30 minutes to 60 minutes, while the 24-minute free airtime allocated for social ads will be reduced to 12 minutes. The company will also be able to accept sponsorship of entertainment programs and TV series;
- The Public Broadcaster, the budgetary funding of which constitutes 0.14% of the country’s GDP (GEL 52.5 million in 2018), will no longer be obliged to return unused funds to the state budget. The company will also be entitled to allocate budgetary funds for supporting “start-ups and innovative television, radio and online products, as well as for fostering development of the broadcasting field.”
- The bill also limits the powers of GPB’s nine-member board of trustees, which will no longer be able to reform the Broadcaster bodies without the director general’s consent.
The GPB management has argued that the amendments bill would make its work more efficient and increase its independence both financially and politically, while private broadcasters and civil society organizations have claimed that the amendments would harm private channels, and allow undue preferences to the Public Broadcaster.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili met the private broadcasters and the GPB management on December 18, but it is yet unclear whether the President will veto the bill or not. President’s Political Secretary Pikria Chikhradze said yesterday that it was “important to support the Public Broadcaster, so that it provides objective information to the public, and at the same time, do everything possible not to harm the media pluralism in terms of the access to resources.”
Representatives of parliamentary opposition share the views of the private broadcasters, with MP Roman Gotsiridze of the United National Movement expressing hope that the President would veto the bill since it “hampers the development of free media in Georgia,” and MP Sergo Ratiani of the European Georgia stressing that the changes would “limit the advertising market for free media,” result into “corruption and protectionism in regards to the startups,” and “reduce the Board’s powers.”
The amendments met opposition within the ruling party as well, with the Parliaments sectoral economy and economic policy committee turning down the bill on December 11. The committee decision, however, was not upheld by the full chamber, which approved the bill on December 14 with 85 in favor and 6 against.
The Parliament plans to put the amendments to its final vote in the course of the week.