Georgia Passes Bill amid Press Freedom Concerns

The Parliament of Georgia endorsed controversial amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications, that among others, allow the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) to appoint “special managers” to telecommunication companies, which as Georgian Young Lawyers Association claims, include a number of broadcasters. 

The Parliament endorsed the amendments, initiated by the Government and GNCC, amid strong criticism expressed by local telecommunication companies and civil society organizations, with 88 votes for and zero against, through the third hearing on July 17. The opposition parties did not attend the session.

The telecommunications companies and civil society outfits claimed that the amendments would have a significantly negative effect on their future activities and that the proposed changes contradict the constitution.

The changes allow GNCC – a regulatory authority, charged with distributing electronic communication protocols and managing broadcasting frequencies – to appoint a special manager at the companies providing electronic communication services, aiming to enforce the decisions of the Commission.

According to the new amendments, a special manager will be authorized:

  • To appoint and/or dismiss company director(s) and member(s) of the supervisory boards (if any).
  • To file a lawsuit in court against the contracts or deals made a year before his/her appointment and demand their annulment.
  • To suspend or restrict the company’s right to distribute profits, dividends, and bonuses, or to increase salaries.
  • To perform other functions of the company’s governing body except for selling its assets or shares.

Following a fierce opposition to the amendments by the telecommunications companies, however, the sponsors of the bill made several corrections to the initial draft.

Unlike the first version of the draft amendments, the adopted amendments specify that the GNCC would exercise this right only if a penalty/fine used against a telecommunication company for a certain violation failed to ensure the enforcement of the Commission’s decision.

Besides, a special manager will be appointed not for a term of up to two years, as envisaged in the initial version, but until the enforcement of the commission’s decision. The adopted amendment does not specify the term limit.

Further, unlike the initial version, which stipulated that the Commission had the right to sell the company’s shares, the new wording contains no such provision.

The newly endorsed Law on Electronic Communications will enter into force upon its publication.

As for the bill on amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, according to which broadcasters would no longer be able to suspend the enforcement of the commission’s decision, was withdrawn by sponsors following the first committee hearing, amid strong criticism voiced by broadcasters and civil society organizations.

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