On December 22, the Parliament of Georgia approved with its third and final reading amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, increasing the powers of the state-funded Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB).
The amendments bill lifted 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 also able to place commercials throughout its entire airtime (previously it could 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 has increased from 30 minutes to 60 minutes, while the 24-minute free airtime allocated for social ads has been 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), is no longer 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 limited 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. They also urged President Giorgi Margvelashvili to veto the amendments bill.
The amendments met opposition within the ruling party as well, with the Parliament’s sectoral economy and economic policy committee turning down the bill on its second and third readings.
It is yet unknown whether the President, who held bill-related meetings with private broadcasters and the GPB management, will sign the amendments into law.