GEO

Georgian Public Broadcaster – new court cases exacerbate Board crisis

11 March, 2014

The Constitutional Court recently heard the case of former members of the Board of the Georgian Public Broadcaster. At the same time, the Court temporarily halted the application of a provision which allows a newly selected Board to become operational once seven members are appointed (Georgian Law on Amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, Article 2, Paragraph 3 from July 12, 2013).

Former GPB Board members, who have filed the court case, argue that their constitutionally protected right as citizens “to hold a public office if he/she meets the requirements established by legislation” (Article 29) was violated when the Parliament dissolved the old GPB Board in November – before the regular terms of its members ended – and then started the selection and appointment of a new Board under new rules.

Yet, another court case was filed with the Kutaisi city court in late February by eight individuals who were shortlisted candidates in the Parliament’s selection process to appoint a new Board in December. This process was derailed by partisan and ideological interests, resulting in only four instead of nine seats being filled, after Parliament failed to select and approve candidates for the other seats. The plaintiffs in this administrative case argue that Members of Parliament – those of the majority Georgian Dream Coalition and independent opposition MPs (and David Bakradze as the only mentioned UNM MP) – violated the Law on Broadcasting by not nominating candidates according to the respective quotas the law defines.

The fact that Kutaisi city court accepted this administrative case against Members of Parliament – rather than against the Parliament as a body – appears to set a new precedent in Georgia. The case names numerous Parliamentarians, but administrative cases can usually only be directed against the state/government bodies that have taken a decision, not against individual members of this body. Furthermore, the Parliament is not an administrative organ.

Both court cases have added a new layer of uncertainty to the fiasco that is the attempted reform of the public broadcaster.

The Parliament still has to select five Trustees to fill the remaining open seats, but until the Constitution Court rules on its case – the implementation of the law may be stopped maximum for the period of 45 days and if the court does not have a ruling by the time the law will become operational again – the legitimacy of the new board remains disputable.

The GPB Board has been non-operational due to the lack of a quorum since September. It requires at least two thirds of its members to be able to vote on and approve key decisions. Without a functional Board, the GPB is unable to address its financial troubles and programming challenges; it has been neither able to approve its 2014 budget nor the programming priorities of the newly created Ajarian Public Broadcaster, which has stalled the reform of this former regional state broadcaster.

How Board members are currently elected:

An independent selection commission of civil society representatives, appointed by Speaker of Parliament, shortlists candidates who apply to an open call. Then, after a public hearing, the selection commission produces a short list of candidates. From this list, candidates can then be selected by the following actors:

The Parliament elects these selected trustees with simple majority. If none of the candidates gather enough votes the subjects nominate the candidates to the Parliament again and the minimum threshold goes down to one third of MPs. In case of a second failure, the new competition is announced.

Selection of candidates by the Parliamentary Commission

In late November 2013, the Parliament passed a now challenged amendment to the Law on Broadcasting, which accelerated the dismissal of the Board and the appointment of new members which had been scheduled for January 2014 (by an amendment to the law made in summer 2013) in an effort to end the persisting leadership crisis at the GPB.

Following the amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, the Parliament announced an open competition for the board membership on November 27 and it approved a nine-member selection commission, consisting of media professionals, civil sector representatives and academics, to shortlist suitable candidates.

The shortlist was created by mid-December, based on documentation submitted by applicants and interviews the commission conducted, which were aired live on the GPB’s Channel 2. The candidates also participated in a televised debate. The commission conducted the process in a transparent manner and presented 27 candidates (3 for each seat) to the Parliament on December 22.

Several Georgian Dream MPs called for an extension of the application deadline, stating the public was not well-informed about the competition and some worthy candidates did not manage to apply, while Sergo Ratiani of UNM expressed discontent with the 27 candidates chosen by the commission.

The Parliament fails to elect the full board

After the selection commission finished its work it was up to the authorized actors as defined by the law on broadcasting to nominate their own candidates for voting.

  • The MPs of the Georgian Dream Coalition nominated only one candidate – Natela Sakhokia (they should have chosen three candidates – the coalition said they were unable to select other suitable candidates from the list of 27);

  • MPs of the United National Movement nominated Ninia Kakabadze and Ketevan Mskhiladze. A third seat was to be filled by a candidates selected by other MPs who are part of the Independent Majoritarian fraction or do not belong to any fraction – they failed to select a candidate;

  • The Ombudsman nominated Marina Muskhelishvili and Lela Gaprindashvili;

  • The High Council of Ajara nominated Geno Geladze.

In the vote that followed the selection process, Parliament on December 27 voted on the six selected candidates but only approved three of them:

The Georgian Dream did not support other candidates, stating they those candidates were unknown to general public.

The Law on Broadcasting (Article 26) states that each subject nominates candidates for their respective quotas. It does not state that the subjects ‘have to’ nominate candidates and it also does not consider a scenario where the subjects do not nominate the candidates. Whether nomination is an obligation or a matter of choice remains the subject of interpretation and dispute.

In the first vote, a simple majority of sitting MPs is needed (76), in the second round at least a third of the votes of sitting MPs (50).

Candidate
Nominated by
First Vote
For
Second Vote
For
Against Against
Natela Sakhokia
Georgian Dream
Pass
83
-
 
3  
Ninia Kakabadze
UNM
Fail
29
Fail
44
5 45
Ketevan Mskhiladze
UNM
Pass
99
-
 
0  
Jana Javajhishvili
UNM
-
-
banned
 
-  
Marina Muskhelishvili
Ombudsman
Pass
82
-
 
17  
Lela Gafrindashvili
Ombudsman
Fail
18
Pass
117
8 0
Geno Geladze
High Council of Ajara
Fail
29
Fail
44
3 34

 

Reactions to the Voting

The failure of the Parliament to elect the full Board sparked criticism. The majority and other MPs were criticized by members of the selection commission for not nominating candidates for all the quotas in the first place. Zviad Koridze, member of the commission, alleged there were political interests of the parties behind the failed project and the parties had difficulty to select candidates whom they could later put under pressure.

The Second Vote

On January 23, the Parliament voted again to fill in the empty places in the Board. The same individuals – Ninia Kakabadze (UNM), Geno Geladze (High Council of Ajara) and Lela Gafrindashvili (Ombudsman) were presented to the Plenary hearing. This time, only  Lela Gafrindashvili, a professor at Tbilisi State University, received enough votes (Georgian Dream MPs had declared beforehand they were going to support the candidacy of Gafrindashvili).

One more candidate, Darejan (Jana) Javakhishvili (UNM) was taken off the vote, because her candidacy was not presented to the Parliament in accordance to the due legal procedures, as explained by the Chairman of the Parliament Davit Usupashvili. The second vote also failed to elect the functioning board which triggered further public criticism within Georgia. The OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic also expressed her disappointment over the failed process.

Is the GPB reform never-ending?

The GPB board has been a political playground since the creation of the Public broadcaster in 2005 and this competition was not an exception – it was also undermined by controversies and allegations, that parties take politically motivated decisions with regard to board member candidates.

As its leadership crisis continues, its ability to fulfill its public value mission – and thus the GPB’s relevance and legitimacy – have suffered. The news and current affairs shows of at least three private TV channels – Rustavi 2, Imedi and Maestro – are more popular than those of the GPB’s Channel 1.

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Author: TI Georgia
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