The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) today fined government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV GEL 112,000 (USD 36,000) – 1% of its annual income – for airing three clips the regulator deemed to be political advertising outside the pre-election period.
The GNCC said the TV station aired the three clips on November 17-18 in contravention of the Georgian legislation.
One of the videos featured photos of justices involved in criminal cases against jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and penitentiary employees. In the clip, a voice narrates over each photo, saying the person “is killing [Saakashvili],” with the narrator calling for the ex-President to be freed at the end of the video.
The second video featured statements by ruling Georgian Dream party members about Saakashvili’s hunger strike, accompanied by a similar voice-over narration.
The third video was prepared by the Shame Movement, which featured photos of current and former GD members being assembled into a photo mosaic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The clip was accompanied by governing party’s campaign theme song, and was captioned “#Shame.”
Citing Georgia’s Law on Broadcasting, the GNCC said broadcasters are obligated to ensure compliance of ads with legislation, adding that airing political ads is only during the pre-election period.
Georgia’s Law on Broadcasting defines pre-election advertising as “- an advertisement that is intended to facilitate the election of the President of Georgia, the Parliament of Georgia or local self-government representative bodies: the local assembly, the head of local administration and the Mayor.”
Georgia’s Election Code defines political/pre-election advertising as “commercial broadcast by mass media aimed at promoting/hindering the election of an electoral subject, where the electoral subject and/or its sequence number are displayed and which contains the signs of election campaign or appeals for or against the issue put forward for referendum/plebiscite.”
Mtavari Arkhi TV’s stance
Mtavari Arkhi TV lawyer Tamta Muradashvili told Civil.ge the regulator’s decision was a negative precedent for the TV station and overall for the media, assessing the ruling as “censorship.”
Muradashvili said that with the ruling, the Commission showed it can restrict freedom of expression and prohibit any discussion in the media that “concerns criticism toward the government.” She added that the regulator can impose fines that will “financially strangle [the media outlet], so that it dies on its own.”
She highlighted that the GNCC did not point to any exact article in Georgian laws that the TV network had violated.
The lawyer also argued the fine was disproportionate and aimed at bullying the government-critical network. She said Mtavari Arkhi TV does not plan to pay the sanction and will appeal the decision in Tbilisi City Court.