An umbrella group campaigning on election-related issues has once again called on the Parliament to consider its proposal to obligate cable operators to carry all the television stations with news programs in order to increase public’s access to information ahead of the October parliamentary elections.
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.
In an appeal to Parliament on June 8, the group said that in its legislative proposals the one, involving introduction of ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, was of special importance.
The rule, if introduced, will obligate, on the one hand, cable operators to carry TV channels without selectively removing any of news channels and on the other hand will also obligate TV channels themselves to make their content available to all the cable operators.
The campaign group said that introduction of this rule would “remove question marks” about citizens’ access to information during the electoral campaign period.
Ruling party lawmakers have indicated about their opposition to imposing ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, citing that such move would amount to meddling into private companies’ business.
The appeal by the campaign group to the Parliament was made in connection to recent developments surrounding Channel 9, owned by wife of leader of opposition Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili, as well as in connection to a decision by a transport service company in Tbilisi to play ads, instead of radio in its minibuses, transporting commuters in the capital city.
The group said that even though certain legal justification for these decisions might be found, the outcome of these decisions was a source of concern because they eventually were resulting into limiting media outlets’ ability to reach wider public.
Stereo Plus, a company providing technical services to TV channels, made Channel 9 available on its terrestrial broadcast frequency; but the Georgian National Communication Commission intervened, saying that the move by Stereo Plus was unauthorized and imposed GEL 5,000 fine on the company, also ordering Stereo Plus to stop transmission of Channel 9, which is currently available on satellite and is also carried by a single cable operator Global TV; other cable operators have refused to carry Channel 9 to their clients.
Tbilisi Minibus, a company uniting four firms operating routes for minibuses, or as they are commonly referred marshrutkas, said that the only reason of disabling radio receivers in minibuses was the company’s commitments under a contract with an advertisement firm, according to which video screens should be installed in minibuses to play ads for passengers.
The campaign group, This Affects You Too, citing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clintons remarks during her visit to Georgia that citizens’ access to information was among “vital” issues ahead of the October elections, called on the Parliament “not to allow in any form” restriction of media outlets’ ability to reach audience; to introduce ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules in the legislation in the shortest period of time and to maximally take into consideration recommendations from international organizations over need for having pluralistic media environment in the country.