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Many hands work on Media Transparency

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, November 15
Legislative package of draft laws for Improvement of the Media Environment in Georgia was introduced to international organisations by the initiative group headed by Lasha Tugushi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Rezonansi with support of the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF) at Courtyard Marriott Hotel on November 12. “The initiative group working on the draft law has a very interesting approach linking the issues of financial transparency and access to information which is also very challenging in our country,” Keti Khutsishvili, Executive Director of OSGF told the guests supporting the independence of media and improvements for the media environment in Georgia.

Unfortunately Georgia is in 90th place in media freedom indices according to the results of international organisations such as “Journalists without Boarders”.

The legislative package prepared by Georgian media and legal representatives aims to solve the problems with concentration and transparency of media ownership, license rights, financial transparency, access to public information, and conflict of interests of the Georgian National Communications Commission members. Introducing the main concepts of the draft law, Lasha Tugushi explained the problems to the international guests and asked for possible solutions.

“The Chairman of Parliament of Georgia Davit Bakradze has admitted the significant challenge in media ownership and financial transparency but even if the state regarding media ownership is improved and becomes transparent it won’t be enough for the general improvement of the media situation in our country,” Tugushi said stressing the importance of a complex approach towards the issue.

Explaining that unknown individuals registered at offshore zones own shares in the leading TV stations in our country, Tugushi stressed that everything in the media should be open to the public. “We should know who is backing the TV stations, defining public opinion in our country. The law should prohibit the anonymous ownership of property in our country and ensure transparency for increasing the trust,” Tugushi told the audience.

Concerned that there are no democratic values encouraging independence of the media in Georgia, Tugushi stressed the importance of creating a competitive environment in line with international standards. The draft law aimed at improving media transparency has been approved by the Public Defender of Georgia Giorgi Tugushi and the eight oppositional parties (National Forum, Conservative Party, Our Georgia – Free Democrats, Republican Party, Georgia’s Way, New Rights, Christian-Democratic Movement and People’s Party) working on the changes within the Electoral Code, lawyers and regional broadcasters.

Approving unity of the media and legal experts motivated to improve the transparency related issues in Georgia Helen Darbishire Executive Director of Access Info Europe spoke of transparency as an international problem and hoped that international NGOs would actively encourage the initiative. “It’s very positive to define an encouraging environment for the media but a link with the audience to define public demand is important to have a particular affect on the Government,” Oliver Reisner, from the EU Delegation to Georgia advised the Georgian media representatives.

Media related issues have been discussed over the past years in our country but this is an exceptional case, according to the initiative group members, which is based on hard research and support. The group members stressed their readiness to open cooperation and lobby for change. It is up to the Parliament of Georgia to make approaches to the joint talks on the issue.

The draft law on media transparency has been worked out by the parliamentary Committee for Legal Issues. The project presented to journalists enables Georgian citizens to obtain complete information on direct or indirect owners of different media outlets. Vakhtang Khmaladze, analyst from the initiative group explained that the project prepared by the MPs is not enough for ensuring media transparency within the country. “The issue of offshore zones remains among the most burning problems for media development, because it raises the threat of distributing unknown money in our country,” Khmaladze told The Messenger.

“The legislative proposal introduced by the initiative group should be given to a special committee for further discussions at the plenary session. If the Parliament will receive the draft law it should deal with all the issues related to transparency and ensure free public access on information about the media which unfortunately is nowadays being violated by public institutions,” the analyst told us hoping that their draft law will be successful in Parliament.