Venice Commission Says New E-Communications Law Threatens Right to Property, Media Freedom

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission said in its March 20 decision that the July 2020 amendments allowing the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) to appoint special managers to telecommunications companies lead to “far reaching consequences for the right to property and media freedom, as well as to the right of a fair trial.”

It said that the powers of the special managers are “so vast and over-reaching that the only limitation seems to be the alienation of the shareholding, leaving the shareholders with no say in the decision-making structures or processes within the company.”

The Venice Commission stated it is “unaware” of such powers in the hands of any relevant European regulatory authorities. 

The amendments in question are two new provisions to the Law of Georgia on Electronic Communications. One is a new paragraph to its Article 11 “main goals and functions of the Commission in the field of electronic communications,” which says the GNCC’s decisions shall be executed immediately. Venice Commission recommended the Parliament revoke this provision to allow appeals to have a suspension effect on the regulator’s decision.

Regarding the other new provision, Article 46, which allows the Commission to appoint the special managers for enforcing its decisions at the companies, Venice Commission said it must be rectified through consultations with all stakeholders and by specifically defining the terms used in its wording. The decision also said that the amended article shall “clearly stipulate that the provision in no manner applies to the broadcasting operations of the electronic communications operator.”

The amendments were adopted on July 17, 2020, amid widespread criticism from CSOs and telecommunication companies alike. The GNCC has so far used its new authority once when it appointed a special manager to Caucasus Online, one of the leading communications companies in the country.

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