The Georgian authorities have and will continue pursuing policy of “strict zero tolerance” towards election-related violations and vote-buying attempts, Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze said on June 22, while making a statement about seizure of satellite dish antennas owned by cable and satellite television provider Global TV.
She said that the probe involving Global TV had nothing to do with restricting media and announced about the authorities’ intention to introduce new initiatives “to ease receiving diverse information for voters.”
“In recent months we’ve been witnessing alarming facts of ignorance of law and attempt to bribe voters,” Zguladze said.
She is also a member Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), a body at the National Security Council of Georgia established with the purpose of preventing of and reacting to electoral-related violations ahead of the October parliamentary polls.
Zguladze said that satellite dish antennas were impounded by the police upon court’s order, pending investigation into possible vote-buying case.
The chief prosecutor’s office said that handing out of dishes to clients by Global TV in which Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother is a shareholder “free of charge… may contain signs of a crime.”
“It is very regretful that, Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream party, as it seems, think they are above the law and are constantly and purposefully trying to weaken the law and, consequently, democracy in this country,” Zguladze said.
The Georgian Dream coalition said in a statement that the police raid on warehouses at several locations across the county to seize Global TV’s satellite dishes and receivers showed that the authorities were “in state of complete agony”, trying to restrict distribution of satellite antennas in the provinces, hence restricting access to information.
Global TV’s marketing director, Zurab Bazlidze, told Civil.ge via phone on Friday afternoon that according to information available at the time to the company about 60,000 satellite dishes had been seized.
Deputy Interior Minister, Eka Zguladze, said that the ongoing investigation and seizure of satellite dishes had nothing to do with restriction of access to information.
“It is about handing out a concrete material property to a concrete voter by a person with concrete political ambitions as part of a pre-election campaigning of a concrete party – therefore, it is about possible vote-buying that is an offence punishable by the law,” Zguladze said.
“We already have and we will continue pursuing a very clear and strict zero tolerance policy towards electoral violations and towards any attempt of voter bribery. It does not mean that any particular political party is or will become a subject of special interest; it means that there will be no compromises while enforcing the law,” she said.
Zguladze also said in this context that while the Georgian legislation was “already very liberal”, providing “politicians all the possibility to reach out to voters”, the government was in consultations with the Parliament about putting forth “additional initiatives” in order “to ease receiving diverse information for voters.”
Shortly after Zguladze’s remarks, Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze announced about the intention to introduce new rules that would obligate “carrying of all television channels by all the cable operators during the electoral period.”
The announcement actually means accepting of a proposal to introduce ‘must-carry/must-offer’ rules, which has been actively pushed since early May by a campaign group of election watchdog and some media organizations and which was initially turned down by the ruling party.