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Transcript of

Lynn Grantz' Interview of Nicholas Johnson

"Weekly News in English"


Tbilisi, Georgia

March 1, 1998

8:00 p.m.

(rebroadcast March 2, 1998, 9:00 a.m.

Lynn Grantz: On Friday [February 27, 1998] a seminar on proposed broadcast legislation was held in the Georgia Parliament. The focus of  the discussion was the draft law on broadcasting which is intended to regulate the rules for the issuing of licenses for television and radio broadcasting companies, and which will take into account the principles of equality and openness and legal guarantees for the operation of newly formed independent companies, including TV7 will depend greatly on this law.

Today our guest is Nicholas Johnson, an expert on media and broadcasting laws.  Mr. Johnson is a visiting professor at the College of Law at the University of Iowa in the United States where he teaches a course in the Law of Electronic Media.  He is also a member of  the Board of Advisors for the Center for Media Education and FAIR, which stands for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Mr. Johnson, thank you for coming to the studio.  It seems you have arrived at a difficult time here in Georgia and the response about the terrorist acts are still being discussed, and the role of mass media in Georgia is very great.

Mr. Johnson, could you say a few words on this for us?

Nicholas Johnson:  I'd be happy to; thank you.

It's a great time to be here notwithstanding the bad news.  It's a beautiful country and wonderful hospitality -- as you pointed out earlier even for hostages -- and I was not a hostage.  So we've had a great time here.

This was a program of the ABA, the American Bar Association, which is funded by the USAID.  They brought me over here because at this time it's a very exciting time in Georgia for all kinds of reasons.  Of course, everyone thinks what they do is the most important thing in the world, and I am no exception.

I think that media and media policy, media laws, broadcast laws, freedom of  information laws, are among the most important legislative efforts in any country because everything else depends upon that:  the quality of education, the political system, the educational system, the role of women, the economy --  all are influenced by the way in which the media function.

Many groups and individuals in Georgia now are very interested in the matter of  legislation affecting broadcasting and other media; members of parliament, journalists, those in the broadcasting business like yourself, as you indicate.  What they are doing, wisely, in my view, is looking to the models in many countries -- not only the United States and Western Europe but many countries around the world -- to find the best models that will work in Georgia.  You have a very special and long tradition of history and culture here and there's no reason to copy anything exactly.

The principles that we've been looking at -- and everybody involved in the American Bar Association ABA program is a volunteer, none of us is being paid.  We're here because we love Georgia, and we've been invited to come over and help as we can.

The principles they've been interested in, in discussions with me, have involved the independence of the media in the United States from the government. The regulatory body that I served on as an appointment of the United States President is called the Federal Communications Commission.  I was a commissioner on that Commission.  It's called an "independent regulatory commission" because it's not controlled by the President. You have a term of seven years, and you cannot be removed.

Public broadcasting also is set up as an independent separate organization; it's not an agency of government.  It sometimes takes positions that are antagonistic to the government. And then if people don't like the decisions of the FCC then they can appeal those to the judges, to the courts, an independent judiciary which has lifetime jobs, and they can reverse the Federal Communications Commission if they don't like it.

So those are some of the principles that have been involved over here in the negotiations.  I've met with people individually, with groups, we had the seminar that you referred to, Lynn.  It's been a wonderful set of meetings, I'm just very pleased.

This is my first trip to Georgia, and it's such a beautiful country and such wonderful people.  So I'm happy to volunteer my time, as I know the other members of the USAID-sponsored American Bar Association program are, and we'll be watching with great interest what legislation comes out of Parliament.  There are some very wise people there and they are going to work out these difficulties and differences as best they can, I know.

Lynn Grantz:  Thank you very much for coming and for giving us your views.

Nicholas Johnson:  Thank you Lynn.

Lynn Grantz:  That was "Weekly News in English" from TV 7.  Thank you and good evening.

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