Joint NGO Assessment of Proposed Amendments to the Law on Broadcasting
 

We, the non-governmental organizations, respond to the bill initiated in the Parliament of Georgia envisaging amendments to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting. We believe that the proposed amendments, envisaging the withdrawal of Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) from a broad sphere of public legislation regulation, worsening the standard of the broadcaster's accountability, weakening the guarantees for the access to information kept by the broadcaster and carrying out transparent state procurements, as well as abolishing the guarantees for the protection of labor rights of GPB employees, do not correspond to the public nature and functions of the public television and weaken the possibilities of conducting public oversight over the broadcaster.    

The planned amendments represent an attempt to institutionalize the regressive policy launched under the new management of GPB, which fundamentally contradicts the idea of public television as a public good and aims at transforming it into a commercially oriented media outlet. The mentioned initiative is perceived as an attempt by the new management to lead the reform process launched by it and criticized by a number of civil society groups arbitrarily, in a simplified and closed format, as well as to limit public oversight over the entire process. It is clear that such approach will significantly weaken public trust towards GPB, as well as its social and political influences.

It should be noted that the package of constitutional amendments approved by the Parliament of Georgia with its two readings envisages a special wording on the public broadcaster and emphasizes the goal of ensuring its independence, protecting against governmental and commercial influences. Contrary to the declared goal of the draft constitution, the proposed amendments weaken the standards of GPB's transparency and accountability and strengthen the threat of its commercialization that contradicts not only GPB's central, public function, but also the essence of new constitutional amendments - to secure the public broadcaster's independence.

 

Law on State Procurement will no more apply to TV/radio products purchased by GPB
 

According to the proposed amendments, the Law of Georgia on State Procurement will no more regulate the procedures of purchasing TV/radio products to be aired on GPB or received from external suppliers. Such procurements will depend on the management's decisions. The proposed amendments will weaken GPB's accountability standards and create the threats of carrying out covert procurement procedures. The European Broadcasting Union's conclusion cited by the GPB management as the basis of proposed amendments cannot be discussed apart of the acts regulating the principles of equality, fairness and transparency; the proposed bill does not offer alternative mechanisms for regulating these procurements, leaving them beyond any public regulation instead.

 

Standards of access to public information kept by Georgian Public Broadcaster will be worsened

The Constitution of Georgia sets a standard for access to information, according to which every citizen of Georgia shall have the right of access to information as determined by law, as well as to official documents stored in state institutions, unless they contain state, professional, or commercial secrets. The proposed amendments, contrary to the presumption of openness secured by the constitution, set the standard of confidentiality for particular information. The proposed amendments will introduce a new type of confidential information, which is not envisaged by Georgian legislation and which does not fall under the standards of freedom of information as well as the rule and procedures of closing the information falling under national legislation in particular cases. Under conditions when the law already envisages the possibility and procedures for making harmful information confidential, further broadening of the circle of confidential information bypassing this regulation is absolutely unjustified.

 

Legislation regulating budgetary organizations will no more apply to the public broadcaster

According to the proposed amendments, the public broadcaster will no more fall under the legislation regulating the activities of budgetary organizations given that the Georgian Public Broadcaster does not represent a public agency and/or, in its classical sense, a spending entity. The budgetary legislation of Georgia defines a spending entity as a government-controlled entity, accountable to or founded by the government, as well as a legal entity of public law if they are financed from the budget. Since the Georgian Public Broadcaster, under current law, represents a budgetary organization, especially in the period of maintaining the rule of budgetary funding, substantiation about the withdrawal of the public television from the legislation regulating the activities of budgetary organizations is unclear and obscure.

 

Powers to spend budgetary funds are expanding unreasonably

Georgian Public Broadcaster will be authorized to earmark budgetary assignations to encourage startup enterprises. Along with the lack of substantiation for the necessity of such change, the bill does not define the rule and mechanism of making such decision; it does not specify the guarantees for earmarking the budgetary funds in line with GPB's mission and purpose, as well as the standards of impartiality and transparency.

 

Special guarantees for the protection of labor rights of GPB employees will be abolished

According to the proposed amendments, citing the abolition of powers for GPB's Board of Trustees to define employees' labor relations, special timeframes for signing contracts with GPB employees will be abolished. Such amendments will unreasonably aggravate the existing, special standards of labor rights protection. Against the background of an optimization process ongoing at GPB, such amendment will increase the risk of making unfair and unjustified decisions with respect to employees.

Although all stakeholders submitted well-grounded opinions about substantial shortcomings in the bill during the discussions held before initiating the bill, the initiated bill has not improved significantly and still contains a number of problematic provisions. In addition, the interested public, who earlier expressed their critical opinions, were not provided an opportunity to participate in the process.

We, the signatories of the present legal assessment, believe that the content and goals of the bill initiated in the Parliament create a threat of conducting non-transparent, unjustified activities at GPB, its closeness, weakening public oversight over it and strengthening a threat of its commercialization that is especially alarming against the background of recent developments at GPB.

Stemming from the significance of the proposed bill and high interest towards it, we call on the Georgian Parliament to ensure transparent parliamentary discussion and enable all stakeholders to express their own opinions.

The non-governmental organizations have prepared a joint legal assessment on the bill, which has been sent to relevant parliamentary committees.

 

Signatory organizations:          

Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC)

Open Society Georgia Foundation

Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters

Television Network 

 

 


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