After the authorities started seizure of satellite dish antennas of Global TV on June 21, Transparency International Georgia has called on the prosecutor’s office “to ensure that all actions that affect media companies are taken in a transparent and proportionate manner.”
“Ahead of the October 2012 parliamentary elections, freedom of the media and access to information are crucial to ensure a free and fair campaign,” the Tbilisi-based watchdog group said in a statement.
“Any case of alleged vote-buying, illegal party financing or corruption should be properly investigated. However, any sanctions should be based on clear evidence and conducted in a way as to not limit freedom of the media. Similarly, steps should be taken to ensure that actions are not perceived by the public as attacks against the media,” it said.
The chief prosecutor’s office said earlier on June 21 that a criminal investigation was launched in a possible vote-buying case involving distribution of satellite dish antennas by Global TV, a company in which Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother owns shares. Global TV has been distributing antennas to clients in the provinces under a scheme according to which clients were not required to pay any sum with the payment of GEL 4 per month starting after a year. The state audit agency said that Global TV imported tens of thousands of satellite dishes with a loan received from Bidzina Ivanishvili and while handing out dishes, the authorities claim, the company was in fact campaigning in favor Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition portraying dishes as a gift from the billionaire politician. A multi-million fine was imposed on Ivanishvili into this case.
Also on June 21 the chief prosecutor’s office requested the court to impound Global TV’s satellite dishes stored in warehouses. The court approved the request and police forces arrived at several enterprises affiliated to Bidzina Ivanishvili, where Global TV’s satellite antennas are stored, to execute the court’s order. Global TV reportedly has about 70,000 satellite dishes stored in various warehouses.
The court’s order reads that the case involves voter bribery through handing out satellite dishes and receivers by "certain individuals", who are not specified either in the court’s decision or in a press release issued by the chief prosecutor’s office earlier on June 21.
Court’s order about seizure of satellite dishes and receivers owned by Global TV also reads that a motion by the chief prosecutor’s office was approved because there is “a valid assumption” that this property of the company is used “for committing a crime, in particular for bribing voters.”
“For that reasons this property should be impounded” pending investigation into the case, the court’s decision reads.
Global TV is the only cable operator carrying in its package Channel 9, a television station co-owned by Ivanishvili’s wife. The channel is also available on satellite.