Three Tbilisi-based television stations, critical to government, became available for most of the 180,000 subscribers of dozens of cable operators across the country after ‘must-carry’ rules went into effect, according to the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC).
Must-carry rules obligate cable providers to transmit television channels, which have news and political programming, during a pre-election period. The rules became effective from August 1 when President Saakashvili set the date for parliamentary elections; this legal obligation will only last before the election day.
As of late Friday afternoon out of 180,000 subscribers to cable operators Channel 9, owned by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, was available to 166,786 subscribers (92%); Kavkasia TV – 156,044 (86%) and Maestro TV – 112,334 (62%), according to GNCC, which also said that process of including these channels in the packages of various cable providers was still ongoing.
According to GNCC there are up to 70 cable operators across the country, which are mainly operating in large towns.
Lower share of Maestro TV, which is available via satellite, is mainly attributed to the fact that one of the largest cable operators, Silknet, has not yet put the channel in its package and it still remains unavailable for Silknet’s subscribers.
Silknet says it now has about 65,000 subscribers in up to twenty three towns across the country (Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, Gardabani, Zestaponi, Zugdidi, Telavi, Kaspi, Lanchkhuti, Marneuli, Mtskheta, Samtredia, Senaki, Poti, Kareli, Kobuleti, Tskaltubo, Kharagauli and Khashuri).
Silknet said in a statement on its website on August 2 that it was ready to make all the relevant TV channels available to its subscribes “in case of an appeal” from these TV stations.
But Maestro TV, citing that there is no legal provision whatsoever obligating TV channels to send such an appeal to cable operators, says that it will not send any request to Silknet.
Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) said that although it’s the obligation of cable operators to carry relevant TV channels to their subscribers in the pre-election period, broadcasters have to communicate with operators and provide them with technical specifications required for transmitting signal.
Maestro TV, however, relentlessly insists that it will not communicate with Silknet.
“Our technical specifications are available on our website so it’s available for [Silknet] too… There is no obligation on our part whatsoever to appeal to the company,” Mamuka Glonti, co-owner of the Maestro TV said on August 3.
There is a long-standing enmity between Maestro TV and Silknet, which is a daughter company of the Silk Road Group, Georgian conglomerate with business interests in transportation, telecommunications, banking and property development.
Like some other cable operators, Silknet too has long been refusing to carry Maestro TV – a situation which eventually led to launch of a successful campaign by a group of media and watchdog organizations to make must-carry rules legally binding for cable networks.
When last year Maestro TV journalist asked Silk Road Group chairman Giorgi Ramishvili why Silknet was not carrying Maestro TV, he responded: “We will switch it on when it [Maestro TV] behaves properly… If there is a constructive dialogue, instead of pressure every problem can be resolved.”
Citing these remarks, Maestro TV’s general director said on August 2 that Silknet “insulted” the TV station.
“The only company to which we will not appeal with request to carry our channel is Silknet unless it apologies for its mistake,” Bacho Kikabidze, Maestro TV’s general director, said on August 2.
Later Maestro TV, however, abandoned this position, instead explaining its unwillingness to communicate with Silknet by absence of any such legal obligation.
The election code says that cable operators have to comply with must-carry rules within three days after it goes into effect; the rule became affective from August 1, when the President set the election date.
According to the law in case of a failure to comply with the rule a cable operator will be warned; if within three days after the warning a cable operator again fails to comply with the must-carry rule, its authorization will be suspended for a one year term.
Maestro TV’s co-owner Mamuka Glonti says that if his television station still remains unavailable for Silknet’s subscribers by August 3 he will appeal GNCC to take measure against Silknet.