Suspension of programs on the Public Broadcaster contradicts the law
On February 6, at a meeting with journalists, the Director-General of the Public Broadcaster presented a possible model for the channel’s reorganization. This model provides for starting one more reorganization of the channel which aims at technical retooling, optimization of staff and financial resources, creating a new schedule of programs, and purchasing a new building for the broadcaster.
According to Mr. Maghlaperidze, the TV and radio stations broadcast 102 programs, and the broadcaster cannot at this stage provide for them financially. Due to this, during the reorganization process, the channel is going to suspend all the programs, except for newscasts. The channel will renew broadcasting with new programs from the year 2018, and it will become fully operational from 2019.
The Public Broadcaster has been in a constant crisis since its founding. Its problems include lack of financial and technical resources, as well as low ratings of programs. Obviously, due to these problems, the channel is in need of reform, which started to be implemented about a year ago. In spite of the fact that the need of the broadcaster’s reform is obvious, it is crucial to ensure that these reforms will not be used for the attainment of concrete political goals and will not interrupt the broadcaster’s operation.
Precisely for this reason, in parallel with the Director-General of the channel announcing radical changes, it was important for the public to receive answers to the following specific questions:
- At the time of optimization of staff: How will the process be managed? Will the management make use of the studies on the staffing policy, which the Public Broadcaster has already conducted, in the process? What mechanisms will be used to guarantee the protection of the journalists’ labor rights? Are there estimates on how many employees the broadcaster will need after the new schedule of programs is put in place? In what form will external experts be involved in this process?
- While the programs are suspended: What principle will be applied to fill the vacated airtime? Will the channel air sports broadcasts with high ratings? Why are not programs with relatively high ratings being retained temporarily? If the programs are suspended, will the journalists and technical staff who work on them be considered as dismissed? Will the channel fulfill its statutory obligations in the pre-election period? According to Article 16 of the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting, the Public Broadcaster is obliged to broadcast socio-political and educational programs. Also, according to Paragraph D of this article, the broadcaster is obliged to broadcast election debates during election campaigns. The statements of the Director-General do not say how the channel is going to fulfill the said statutory obligations, considering that the country is set to hold local government elections in 2017.
- At the time of financial optimization: How will the broadcaster’s assets be used, including the real estate on the broadcaster’s balance sheet? Will the project of the new newsroom be implemented? What alternative projects are on the table? What is the precise amount of financial resources that are necessary for the broadcaster’s complete technical retooling? Will the period of financial optimization of the broadcaster be transparent for the civil society and the media?
- At the time of creation of the new schedule of programs: How will new programs be selected for the new schedule? What kind of content will the broadcaster produce and what will it commission to external studios? Will the current employees be employed in new projects?
Giving answers to these and other questions will be a crucial precondition for the implementation of an effective and, what is most important, politically unmotivated reform in the Public Broadcaster. Hasty decisions are going to question the broadcaster’s reputation and might infringe on the labor rights of journalists working at the channel. The Board of Trustees should demand that the Director-General present a more detailed plan and take into account the risks posed by suspension of programs on the channel.
It should also be emphasized that each new director of the broadcaster starts their activity by reorganization, which, ultimately, turns reorganization into an unending process and creates an unstable environment. The unstable environment reflects negatively on both employees’ motivation and viewers’ loyalty to the broadcaster.
Despite the fact that TI Georgia has noted the necessity of changes in the Public Broadcaster in a number of reports, we believe that the proposed changes, in their vague form, might further damage the broadcaster, unless its management publicly presents a draft of planned changes and relevant rationale in the nearest period.