Ruling party lawmakers said on June 14 after meeting with a campaign group, pushing for introduction of ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules to alleviate concerns about access to information, that such a proposal was unacceptable.
“There is no threat to pluralism of information; there are very many TV channels and political parties have access to TV stations and I think that imposing new obligations on cable operators would not be a right decision. It is a competitive market and they [cable operators] should decide which TV channel to carry and when based on principles of competition,” said a senior ruling party lawmaker, Pavle Kublashvili, who chairs parliamentary committee for legal affairs.
In early May an umbrella group campaigning on election-related issues, This Affects You Too, a wide-ranging bill, which the authors said aimed at improving electoral environment ahead of the October parliamentary elections.
One of the proposals in the bill, prioritized by the campaign group, offers to introduce ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, which will obligate, on the one hand, cable operators to carry TV channels with news programs and on the other hand will obligate TV channels themselves to make their content available to all the cable operators.
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 one of the largest cable networks, Silk TV, as well as by Caucasus TV, which Maestro TV says is a politically-motivated decision on the part of these companies. 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.
“There is only one reason behind the ruling party’s refusal to introduce this rule – not to let people watch Maestro TV, Kavkasia TV and Channel 9, that’s the only reason,” said Lasha Tugushi, editor-in-chief of the Georgian daily, Rezonansi, who is a member of This Affects You Too group. Kavkasia TV is carried by cable operators in the capital.
Speaking at Washington-based think-tank, Atlantic Council, on June 13, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Bass said that “big issue” in respect of media situation in Georgia was how to broaden access to information for those who live outside large cities and “don’t have access to cable providers who carry pro-opposition channels and therefore are relying on major terrestrial broadcasters, who tend to have a pro-government orientation.”
“I think it is legitimate to express a concern that these voters don’t have an access to a wide range of information,” the U.S. Ambassador said.
He said that he hoped there would be some progress on this issue sooner rather than later.
“Too many people have to rely on single sources of information or try to piece together what is happening from a range of sources of information each of which has a very focused, concentrated point of view, which does not consider alternative facts and alternative opinions,” Ambassador Bass said.
On June 13 eleven political parties from across the opposition spectrum, ranging from Christian-Democratic Movement to Bidzina Ivanishvili-led Georgian Dream coalition, joined a statement calling for introduction of ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules.