(New York, NY) — A new communications bill in Georgia poses a key threat to independent media outlets and to media freedom, PEN America said today. Earlier this month, the country’s parliament passed a new law allowing the government to appoint “special managers” that can override decisions made by telecommunications companies, including a number of broadcasters.

“This law puts the independence of Georgian broadcasters at risk,” said Polina Sadovskaya, Eurasia program director at PEN America. “As a result of these broad powers and discretions, these critical media outlets could come under attack should the ‘special manager’ decide that certain stories are not in the interests of the manager of the government that appointed them. The bill creates dangerous opportunities for the government to subtly curb free expression and should be vacated immediately.”

On July 17, the Georgian parliament passed a new communication bill that stipulates that the National Communications Commission, the governmental telecommunications regulator in the country, will be able to appoint these “special managers,” giving them the power to enforce the decisions of the commission. Although the language of the bill became more precise as the bill progressed through hearings, the final version still granted the special managers the almost unrestricted authority to carry out a wide range of actions, including appointing or dismissing company directors and restricting the company’s right to independently manage revenues. 

Several local human rights organizations and media watchdogs have voiced criticism of the draft bill, calling it “unjustifiable suppression of freedom of expression.” The National Communications Commission denied these allegations and noted that the bill would only apply to “‘entities of critical infrastructure’ like mobile and internet operators,” but analysts have stated that the language in the draft bill does not reflect that assertion.

Prior to the final adoption of the bill, a Georgian media coalition and several coalition telecommunications companies voiced their opposition, noting that they were not consulted in due time and highlighting the “unjustified interference in [their] property rights secured by the constitution.” The bill follows a series of previous attacks on independent media by the government and, as such, runs against Georgia’s constitutional commitment to upholding freedom of expression.