An umbrella group campaigning on election-related issues has called on U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to raise the need for further legislative amendments to improve electoral environment when she meets Georgian leadership in Batumi on June 5.
Earlier last month the group, This Affects You Too, uniting election watchdog and legal advocacy organizations, as well as several media outlets, submitted to the Parliament package of legislative amendments, which, among other issues, also offers tightening provisions regulate use of administrative resources; amending law on broadcasting to prevent arbitrary treatment of TV channels by cable networks and banning hidden political ads by media sources.
Ahead of planned visit of the U.S. Secretary of State to Georgia, the campaign group released on June 1 an appeal to Hillary Clinton saying that Georgia’s civil society “is actively collaborating with the Parliament of Georgia to promote a just and competitive election environment” and the proposed package of legislative amendments, if adopted, “will be instrumental to conducting democratic elections in Georgia.”
In the appeal to the U.S. Secretary of State, the campaign group focuses on part of the proposal envisaging introduction of ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, which obligate, on the one hand, cable operators to carry Georgian broadcasters and TV channels, on the other hand, to make their content available to cable networks to carry them to subscribers.
The proposal echoes existing situation on the market, wherein some TV stations are denied by some cable networks to be carried to their subscribers, while some TV channels have themselves refused to be carried by one of the cable providers.
Currently Tbilisi-based Maestro TV is not available in packages offered by Silk TV and Caucasus TV networks, which Maestro TV says is a politically-motivated decision. Newly launched TV station, Channel 9, owned by Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, is not available for most of the viewers because it is now only carried by one cable operator, Global TV, which is co-owned by Ivanishvili’s brother.
Global TV itself cannot carry several TV channels, including two largest and most watched nationwide broadcasters – Imedi TV and Rustavi 2 TV, after they requested the Global TV to suspend their transmission, citing commercial reasons. Global TV, however, said it was done deliberately to encourage its subscribers to switch to other cable operators and to discourage potential new clients from subscribing with Global TV with an eventual goal to limit number of households with access to Channel 9’s broadcasts, which is also available via satellite and internet.
“Public access to a pluralistic media environment remains one of the key issues facing Georgia,” the campaign group, This Affects You Too, says in its appeal to the U.S. Secretary of State and cites the recent Department of State’s human rights country report, which say: citizens in Georgia “had limited access to diverse and unfettered media.”
“Among the initiatives in the legislative package submitted to the Parliament with the aim of addressing this problem, those regarding the introduction of must-carry and must-offer principles into the legislation regulating broadcasting merit special attention,” the group says.
“Their adoption would ensure that the Georgian public can access independent television channels,” it says. “If the Georgian Government were to accept this proposal, we believe that this would address the controversy about the public availability of electoral information during the run-up to the elections.”
“Bearing in mind the necessity of conducting the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in a fair and competitive atmosphere, and of fostering a pluralistic media environment, we would greatly appreciate your bringing the position of the United States regarding the above-mentioned issue to the attention of the Georgian authorities,” the appeal reads.
Ruling party lawmakers have already indicated about their opposition to imposing ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, citing that such move would amount to meddling into private companies’ business.