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Public Defender’s Statement on Action Plan Presented by Public Broadcaster’s New Leadership

23.02.2017

 
Ombudsman.ge

The vision of the Public Broadcaster's new leadership, which links the closure of programs only to their ratings, does not represent a decision based on the comprehensive study of the issue and causes questions with regard to the entire reform process.

As is known, on 6 February, the new Director General of the Public Broadcaster and the Executive Board presented a three-year action plan. According to the plan, in 2017, the entire financial resources will be spent only on the arrangement of the new building, its re-equipment and purchase of regional offices; all programs, except for the news edition, will be closed/suspended. The Public Defender has made a number of comments about the events developed around the Public Broadcaster and expressed his doubts about the proposed plan. It should be noted that the plan is at odds with the obligations under the Law on Broadcasting, according to which, the Public Broadcaster must broadcast not only news, but also social-political programs, and pre-election debates during election campaigns, etc.

When considering the abovementioned plan, the Board of Trustees decided that the rating was not the only measurement for evaluating the operation of the Public Broadcaster and that other criterion should be brought into the process. At the request of the Director General, the Board of Trustees developed and published (on 16 February) a document on framework assessment criteria. This document indicates that apart from ratings, the evaluation criteria are: quality, impact and value in relation to expenditures. The following day, on February 17, the new management presented programs divided into three groups. The division was based only on ratings and provided for the closure of programs, the ratings of which are lower than the average rating of the channel.

First of all, it should be noted that people have questions about the calculation of ratings, including its reliability, as well as whether the management’s decision on putting broadcasting programs contributed to their ratings. At the same time, it should be said that despite these questions, it is unacceptable the rating be the sole criterion for closing programs in the Public Broadcaster. The Public Broadcaster was founded for the purpose of providing public with diverse programs free from political and commercial influence, in compliance with the public interest. The Public Broadcaster is financed from the state budget and is responsible for implementation of a number of obligations under law. Among them, the Public Broadcaster is obliged to reflect in programs the ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious, age and gender diversities of the society; provide programs prepared by minorities about the issues of minorities on the minority languages in a proper proportion; promote Georgia’s foreign policy directions, including the integration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, etc. Given the functions of the Public Broadcaster, it is inadmissible its performance to be evaluated only according to the ratings and programs to be closed only on this basis.

It should be noted that closure/suspension of programs will presumably lead to the revision of labor relations with employees. Little is known about this issue today. It is important the Board of Trustees to draw proper attention to this issue and to critically review each detail. In addition, it has been reported that part of the employees signed one-month contracts after the presentation of the three-year action plan.

The Public Defender calls on the new management of the Public Broadcaster and the Board of Trustees to transparently discuss the reform of the Public Broadcaster through the high involvement of the society, including employees, and to make decisions consistent with the law as well as with the Public Broadcaster’s ideas and objectives. The Public Defender will monitor the process, including the realization of labour rights of the employees of the Public Broadcaster.

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