Parliament passed on February 5 with 63 votes to 30 with its second reading a bill setting 20% per hour limit on advertisement for broadcasters, which the opposition claims is aimed at targeting Rustavi 2 TV’s ad revenues.
The draft amendments to the law on broadcasting, set new regulations, including related to ads, sponsorship, teleshopping, product placement.
The bill has been heavily amended since its first reading to reflect many of the proposals put forth by broadcasters and other stakeholders.
But the main issue that caused most of the controversy – 20% limit per hour and date of its enforcement – still remains.
Currently television stations can allocate 20% of total broadcasting time per day to advertisement; as no hourly limit exists, broadcasters put more ad spots in primetime to maximize revenues, resulting in lengthy, well over 12-minute ad spots in primetime.
It will change from April, 2015 if the proposed bill is passed with its third and final reading and signed into law by President Margvelashvili.
The Georgian National Communications Commission, which drafted the bill, and the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority, cite the need to put these regulations in line with the European standards as the reason behind the proposal.
Under the Association Agreement with the EU, Georgia undertook commitment to introduce 20% hourly limit within five years.
Rustavi 2 TV, which generates largest ad revenues among Georgian television stations, has been in the forefront of opposition to the proposal, calling on the authorities to delay its enforcement and not to move to a new system immediately, which, the broadcaster says, will hit its ad revenues.
It has called on the authorities to introduce hourly ad cap gradually within five years as it is envisaged by the Association Agreement and not from April as envisaged by the bill.
Rustavi 2 TV received GEL 13.5 million in ad revenues in the final quarter of 2014, more than twice as much as its main competitor Imedi TV.
During the debates in parliament on February 5, UNM opposition lawmakers were accusing GD of deliberately targeting Rustavi 2 TV, which is frequently criticized by ruling coalition figures for being, as they put it, UNM’s “propaganda” and “lie machine.”
“It hits Rustavi 2 TV… because you do not like Rustavi 2, because it speaks out critically, sharply about developments in the country and that is why you want to restrict it,” UNM MP Davit Darchiashvili told GD lawmakers during the debates.
Lawmakers from opposition Free Democrats (FD) are also against of the bill. FD’s Nino Goguadze said during the debates that “hasty introduction of these regulations represents meddling into the market and can be perceived as a step against specific media outlet.”
GD MP Zurab Tkemaladze, chairman of parliamentary committee of economic policy, said that recommendations of all the broadcasters, including those of Rustavi 2, were taken into consideration, except of one, related to delay of enforcement of 20% limit per hour.
“These regulations affect all the broadcasters, not just Rustavi 2, but you care only about Rustavi 2,” MP Tkemaladze told UNM opposition lawmakers.
GD MP from Industrialists Party, Gogi Topadze, said: “It is natural if something has been restricted for Rustavi 2 TV, which has been giving biased assessments to various developments throughout years.”
Some other lawmakers from the parliamentary majority group stressed on the need of protecting TV viewers’ interests by introducing hourly ad cap.
A senior GD MP Gia Volski said that UNM’s criticism of the bill aimed at portraying the Georgian authorities as threat to media freedom.
“Not a single media outlet faces any threat whatsoever,” MP Volski said.