Draft of legislative amendments envisaging introduction of must-carry rules was initiated in the parliament on June 26, which after the approval will obligate cable operators to transmit TV channels with news and political programming for at least 60 days before the elections.
According to the draft of amendment to the election code, from the date of setting election day, all cable operators will have to carry to their clients all those Georgian channels with news programs, which have a license to broadcast in a geographical area covered by a given cable operator.
But those news TV channels, which have satellite broadcasting license, will have to be carried by all the cable networks.
It means that Channel 9, owned by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, as well as another Tbilisi-based channel, Maestro TV – both have satellite broadcast license –will become available in a package of all of the cable networks in the country.
Proposed draft also means that cable operators in the provinces will not be obligated to carry in their packages Kavkasia TV, which has a broadcast license covering Tbilisi. Likewise, Tbilisi-based cable operators will not be obligated to transmit TV stations, which cover only a specific area in a province outside Tbilisi.
The rule will apply only during the pre-election period and cable operators will no longer be obligated to follow these rules after the election day, according to the draft of legislative amendment, which is expected to be passed by the Parliament this week.
There were slightly over 171,000 subscribers to cable operators in Georgia as of end-2011, according to Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC).
Parliamentary elections, according to the constitution, should be held sometime in October; it is up to the President to set an exact date.
According to the law President has to set election date not later than 60 days before the elections, meaning that the President has to announce election date sometime in August.
Introduction of must-carry/must offer rules was pushed actively by This Affects You Too, umbrella group of election watchdog and media organizations, since early May.
Tamar Chugoshvili, head of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), which is part of This Affects You Too group, said that must-carry should apply not only in a pre-election period but also beyond the election day, at least before the announcement of final official results of the elections. Final vote tally should be approved by the Central Election Commission within 19 days from the elections.
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. Channel 9, a television station owned by Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, has been denied to be carried by all the cable operators, except of one, 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.
According to GNCC’s report on Georgia’s electronic communications market, number of subscribers to cable networks increased from 135,369 in early 2011 to 171,641 by the end of 2011.
There are about 70 cable operators across the country, mainly in larger towns, but three companies take the largest share of the market – Silknet with 43,027 subscribers as of end-2011, followed by Super TV (formerly Ayety TV) in Tbilisi and GNN (operating mainly in Saburtalo district of Tbilisi) with 37,936 and 19,140 subscribers, respectively, according to GNCC report.