Media issue: still no solution
02 December, 2010
Media issue: still no solution

Harsh statements of Parliament Speaker ignored by his team members

An important media-related meeting was recently held in the Parliament where Pavle Kublashvili, Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee and MP Chiora Taktakishvili discussed a draft amendment to the Law on Broadcasters with non-governmental representatives.
The issue of transparency of media owners and media funding, which are required for media freedom, was raised by Parliamentary Chair Davit Bakradze about one month ago. At the time, he gave a special

order to the Legal Issues Committee to prepare the above mentioned bill. He emphasized transparency of both the identity of owners and finances of media outlets. Accordingly, the bill should have considered these two aspects. The essence of the issue was the demand to introduce the prohibition for off-shore companies to own media outlets in Georgia. That was a clear message from the ruling party. However, now its representatives started to talk about inserting the 10% allowance in the law – an effective cancerous loophole – which would be given to the offshore companies as a threshold stake in any given Georgian media channel.
As experts point out regarding the given draft law, the promises do not live up to original expectations. Most prominently, they stress this very 10% loophole.
It was exactly this controversy that led to a hot debate during the meeting. A large majority of non-governmental representatives believe this loophole in real terms means obscured transparency of media ownership. What is more, they say this issue cannot be tackled in isolation from the financial transparency.
Basically the draft law regulates access to public information, financial transparency, cheap and fast justice and licensing.
However, the main task of the new law is the issue of specifying the identity of media outlet owners. There are TV owners in Georgia whose companies are registered in offshore zones creating a veil of secrecy over the ownership.
Experts say that there is no precedent in the world when a media outlet is registered in the offshore zone and its owner is not known to the public.
As the initiators of the draft law explain, it is necessary to know identity of the people who own media companies. They also hold that the issue of offshoring must be cleared completely, contrary to what the Georgian Parliamentary Legal Committee supposes (they think of allowing unidentified ownership in case of 10% or smaller ownership). Members of the team say that the Committee will not solve the problem with this method. Moreover, it will exacerbate transparency problem because owners of a media outlet who are registered in an offshore zone and who receive finances of unknown origin may be the real owners of the outlet.
The financial transparency is an acute problem too. It is directly related to the independence of media outlets. Experts think that origins of money – be they coming from commercials or other channels – that fill purses of media outlets must be always known. The draft law also tackles the issue of licensing and problems existing in this sphere. There is also a package on international regulations. In addition, the draft law envisages solutions for the accessibility of public information which is the weakest point of today’s media.
The law speaks about cheap and fast justice which is not accessible for the journalists today. It also foresees abolishing of GEL 100 court entry fee which both journalists and citizens were unable to pay.
We would like to remind the readers that this initiative was devised long ago but the legislative authorities gave a green light to it only after the survey of an international organization, which placed Georgia in a middling place in the media freedom rating.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) demanded from the ruling party representatives to explain the necessity of this loophole and most importantly, why the promise of the Head of the Georgian Parliament is met only half-way. Other NGOs also adhere exactly to the same position.
There are opposing views on the expediency of the loophole as well. Liberty Institute, rather well-known NGO in Georgia, said there is no reason to prohibit media ownership to the off-shore companies and called the Authorities for complete abolition of all restrictions under consideration to this end. Despite earlier noisy statements of Georgian Parliamentary Speaker, the Authorities seemed to fully accommodate the NGO’s positions.
“We listened to the specific proposals on the matter regarding transparency of broadcasting license owners. We heard certain critical remarks on the part of the NGOs, part of which will certainly be considered by us. We will continue joint work on all problems,” Pavle Kublashvili said.
Media expert Zviad Koridze says the size of the percentage has no meaning because every percent of ownership is supposed to be transparent.
“We think that financial transparency is also very important. Is not our public supposed to know the size and origin of money owned by any given TV, how and where do TV founders get money from? Of course, it is. So, to allow the public to know everything about them, we need to include relevant rules in the law. Media should always seek public trust, which cannot be found as long as this sort of information is concealed. It’s a principal question,” asserts Koridze.
Lasha Tughushi, Editor-in-Chief of Resonance newspaper and initiator of media legislative changes, hopes that the recently started collaboration of the Authorities and the non-governmental sector will continue and bring fruitful results.
“I am dissatisfied that there was no talk about problems that permeate Georgian media. It is about media transparency and accessibility of public information, as well as information on courts and so on. I think the Authorities realize that any lack of constructive spirit on its side will not be beneficial for them because it is apparent that the number of media freedom supporters and the geography of the support is large,” he says.

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