Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) has decided to team up with three private television stations to jointly commission exit polls for the October 8 parliamentary elections.
A separate exit poll will be commissioned by Rustavi 2 private broadcaster; it has yet to announce details.
Along with public broadcaster, a group of four television stations jointly planning exit polls, also includes Imedi TV, Maestro TV and GDS TV – the latter is owned by son of billionaire ex-PM and founder of ruling GDDG party Bidzina Ivanishvili.
GPB’s decision to team up with the group has been criticized by a group of media watchdog and civil society organizations, which has warned that the move will damage GPB as it will be perceived as taking sides in Georgia’s politically polarized media landscape.
Three private broadcasters Imedi TV, Maestro TV and GDS TV have jointly commissioned exit polls to TNS Opinion with field work to be carried out by Tbilisi-based pollster Gorbi.
GPB became the fourth broadcaster to join the consortium after its board of trustees gave go-ahead on September 7 to the management to team up with the three private television stations.
Of seven board members present at the September 7 meeting, four voted in favor, two were against and one abstained.
GPB, which is funded from the state budget, will have to pay GEL 200,000 (about USD 86,500) for exit polls, which has a total cost of slightly over GEL 937,000 (about USD 405,300). Rest of the total cost will be covered by three private broadcasters, according to GPB’s director general Giorgi Baratashvili.
Coalition for Media Advocacy, uniting eleven media and civil society organizations, has called on the GPB to reverse its decision on joining the consortium.
“Not once have exit polls become a tool of political manipulation in our country. The Coalition for Media Advocacy believes that holding of exit polls jointly with private TV channels will affect negatively on public trust towards the Georgian Public Broadcaster and raise more questions over broadcaster’s political independence. The Coalition believes that public funds should not be spent on the activities that are detrimental to the channel,” reads the statement released by the Coalition for Media Advocacy on September 8.
The group unites eleven organizations, among them Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics; Institute for Development of Freedom of Information; Open Society Georgia Foundation; Regional Broadcasters Network; Regional Media Association; Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters.
“The Coalition for Media Advocacy calls on the public broadcaster to reverse its decision and direct all of its available resources towards comprehensive, timely and impartial coverage of ongoing processes,” reads the statement.
When discussing the issue at the meeting of GPB’s board on September 7, head of broadcaster Giorgi Baratashvili downplayed similar concerns, which were voiced by those two members of the board – Ketevan Mskhiladze and Sulkhan Suladze, who were against of joining the consortium; Baratashvili said that the decision had nothing to do with politics and it was about buying a product which GPB would not have afforded independently without teaming up with other broadcasters.