Parliament passed on June 29 with its final reading amendment to the election code obligating cable providers to transmit television channels with news programs for sixty days before the elections.
The legislative amendment, known as ‘must-carry’, means that over 170,000 subscribers to dozens of cable providers across the country will be able to watch during the pre-election period three Tbilisi-based television stations – Kavkasia TV, Maestro TV and Channel 9, which is owned by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife.
The legally binding obligation to carry these channels will, however, expire just before the election day – something that a group of watchdog organizations, advocating for must-carry rules since early May, was against, instead calling on the authorities to expand timeframe of application of the rule beyond the election day at least before final official results of elections are declared.
Citing unwillingness to keep on state’s “meddling in private businesses” beyond the pre-election period, the ruling party lawmakers refused to accept the proposal.
The authorities, however, pledged to “encourage” cable providers and TV channels to keep the practice introduced by the legislative amendments even beyond the end-date of legally binding obligations.
“The state will support and encourage any agreement that would contribute to further cooperation between cable operators and TV channels beyond the date when legally binding obligations ends,” Davit Bakradze, the Parliamentary Chairman, said on June 29, adding, that “end of the legally binding obligation does not automatically imply that the cable operators will have to stop transmitting these channels.”
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.
Initial wording of the draft did not obligate cable operators in the provinces to carry Kavkasia TV, which has a broadcast license in the capital city. The draft, however, was later amended so that to make Kavkasia TV also available to cable subscribers in the regions. That was made through including in the legislation a provision according to which a television station having a reach to at least 20% of population. It also means that Tbilisi-based cable operators will not be obligated to transmit TV stations, which cover only a specific area in a province outside Tbilisi and which cover geographical area where less than 20% of population live.
The legislative amendment also states that cable operators will have to carry TV channels without any requirement to receive permission from broadcasters themselves.
Cable provide Global TV cannot now 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 Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC) number of subscribers to cable operators 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, according to the Cable TV Union of Georgia.
There are three companies, which 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.