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MPs bow to pressure on Media transparency

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, December 6
The Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia chaired by the ruling party MP Pavle Kublashvili discussed media transparency issues on December 3. After lengthy consultations with NGOs and a group of media and legal experts, the MPs agreed on the outright ban on ownership of broadcasters by offshore-registered firms instead of only limiting them.

The draft amendments to the law on broadcasting, proposed by the ruling party, envisaged limiting of the ownership of a broadcaster by offshore-registered firms to a maximum of 10% of the shares, but now, according to Kublashvili not a single percent can belong to any offshore registered company. “We should not leave any question marks with regards to transparency of media ownership thus, the committee will write in its conclusion that all those limits related to the ownership of shares by offshore companies should be removed from the draft,” Kublashvili said based on the decisions made together with his colleagues.

The document which will be further discussed at the parliamentary plenary session needs more improvement, according to Levan Vepkhvadze, member of the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM). Explaining that consultations on media transparency will still continue, the MP spoke about the disagreements between the ruling party and the minority on the issue. “The draft law presented by the Government only refers to transparency of media ownership while the document prepared by media experts covers a wider range of issues oriented on improving the whole media environment in our country,” he said stressing that the solution of one particular issue doesn’t fully settle the questions.

The legislative package of draft laws for the Improvement of the Media Environment in Georgia prepared by Georgian media and legal representatives introduced to Parliament by CDM aims to solve the problems with concentration and transparency of media ownership, license rights, financial transparency, public access to information, and declarations of conflict of interests of the Georgian National Communications Commission members. Even though Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze told the Legal Issues Committee to combine the two projects, the Committee Chairman Pavle Kublashvili suggested CDM to present the draft prepared by the media experts as an alternative project for the second reading. This means that first MPs will have to vote for the alternative package than for the principal one.

The draft law presented by the ruling party had been the subject of criticism because of its failure in addressing the financial transparency of broadcasters. The ruling party lawmakers said the draft would include a provision stipulating the Georgian National Communications Commission post on its website not only information about ownership of broadcasters, but also the conclusions of the financial audits of broadcasters. But critics believe that those conclusions would also fail to give a conclusive picture of broadcasters’ finances and additional measures would be needed. The ruling party lawmakers promised that discussions on the matter would continue during the second reading of the draft.

MP Gia Tsagareishvili from 'Our Georgia – Free Democrats' asked the Government to name the companies facing problems with media non-transparency. “Everything is clear to the public and companies praising the Government from early morning until late at night are causing problems,” said the MP referring to Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV. Wondering whether the ruling party had led negotiations with the initiative group working on the alternative draft, Tsagareishvili stressed the importance for politicians to cooperate with experienced and professional media representatives on media-related issues.

Eliso Chapidze, Deputy Editor of Rezonansi newspaper and also a member of the initiative group spoke to The Messenger about the group’s success. “The ruling party MPs have at least verbally agreed on banning ownership of broadcasters by offshore-registered firms after our principal demand but what concerns now is the financial transparency of media outlets,” Chapidze said stressing the necessity of accessibility to the monitoring and audit database of the national companies. “Everyone has a right to get the necessary information about the budget sources of TV stations as well as be familiar with the database of the national broadcasters in line with international standards,” she added.

Explaining that the ruling party has violated parliamentary regulations by postponing the introduction of the alternative legislative package for a second reading, Chapidze stressed they wouldn’t make any compromise in creating a transparent media environment in Georgia. She added that there are still lots of other things to be done to ensure media transparency and said the initiative group will soon meet with MPs to discuss free access to information at the Government bodies through improving their internal regulations.