On November 17-18, Second South Caucasus Media Conference “Public Service Broadcasting and the Internet” was held in Tbilisi. It was organized by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in cooperation with the OSCE Mission to Georgia. The first conference took place in October 2004 and was devoted to the issues of criminal libel and insult, the problems of access to information (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 22-28, 2004). This time, the event participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria discussed the current situation of media in the three South Caucasus countries, establishment of public service broadcasting in Azerbaijan and Georgia, prospects for its further development in Armenia, and also freedom of expression on the Internet.
On the first day of the conference, Editor of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter Elina Poghosbekian made a presentation on “Media and Democratization Process in Armenia”, which will be published in the next issue of the Newsletter.
At the closing day, November 18, similarly to the last year, the participants adopted a declaration on the results of the conference (see below).
TBILISI DECLARATION ON PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING AND THE INTERNET
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING
The governments in South Caucasus should:
– reaffirm their commitment to maintain a strong and vibrant independent Public Service Broadcasting;
– refrain from interference with the editorial independence and institutional autonomy of Public Service Broadcasters;
– define and implement an appropriate legal, institutional and financial framework for the functioning of Public Service Broadcasting.
The further development of Public Service Broadcasting should be based on the following principles:
Independence of Regulatory Bodies
– The independence of regulatory bodies and Public Service Broadcasters should be guaranteed by law and respected in practice.
– Appointment of members to boards and regulatory bodies should reflect a broad spectrum of stakeholders; and should be based on high professional criteria.
– Elections of regulatory bodies, if they are envisaged, should be transparent.
– The process of appointing members should be set out clearly in the law. Members should serve in their individual capacity and exercise their functions at all times and in the public interest.
– Public Service Broadcasters should be adequately funded, taking into account their remit, by a means that protects them from arbitrary interference in their budgets.
– Where government subsidies are provided, they should be granted on a secure, long-term basis, without infringing on the independence of Public Service Broadcasters.
– The financial security and economic independence of Public Service Broadcasters are necessary for their proper operation and credibility in the society. It is the duty of national parliaments and governments to ensure stable and adequate financing. It is also their duty to promote the development of a political and civic culture that guarantees the proper environment for Public Service Broadcasting as an emanation of civil society.
– In consideration of the subsidy provided by the government to produce socially important programming, the broadcaster should refrain from making programming decisions on a purely commercial basis.
– Placement of advertisement should not be used as an instrument of pressure.
Editorial independence of Public Service Broadcasting Organizations
– The principle of editorial independence, whereby programming decisions are made by broadcasters on the basis of professional criteria and the public’s right to know, should be guaranteed by law and respected in practice. It should be up to the editorial board of the broadcasters, not the government, regulatory bodies nor commercial entities, to make decisions about what to broadcast.
– Public Service Broadcasters should endeavour to reflect cultural, religious and languages diversities of their communities.
– Their programme offer should serve all groups of society, including those neglected by commercial broadcasters, such as ethnic minorities and others.
– Regulation of the Internet media should be limited only to those few instances which are absolutely unavoidable considering international norms.
– Internet media should enjoy the same protection by press freedom provisions as traditional media.
– All acts on regulations of the Internet should be taken after necessary consultations with the Internet community.
– There should be no state regulation or registering of websites or Internet domains besides purely technical matters.
– Websites should not be obliged to be physically hosted in the country even if targeting home audiences.
– Bodies administering the national domain name system (DNS) should be independent from the state.
– Internet access infrastructure should be fostered and not hindered.
– In order to improve both public and media access to information and facilitate electronic government, public bodies should publish information about their structures and activities on web sites.
The following was also concluded from the debates at the Tbilisi Conference on Media:
– Governments should ease state secret and other laws that unnecessarily restrict access to information. States should fully implement freedom of information laws that maximize media and public access to government-held information.
– Further efforts should be made to decriminalize offences concerning libel and defamation. A clear distinction between criticism of private and public figures should be made throughout punitive legislation to allow for a vivid debate on public-interest issues.
– The fines imposed by the Courts on media enterprises should not drive them into bankruptcy.
The participants of the Conference appealed to the Azerbaijani authorities to accelerate the investigation of the murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov.
Tbilisi, 18 November 2005