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Ruling Party’s Request to Fine Critical Media ‘Alarming’, says Media Watchdog

The Media Advocacy Coalition, a press freedoms watchdog, considers the ruling Georgian Dream party’s request that the Georgian National Communications Commission fine three opposition TV stations – Formula, Mtavari Arkhi, and TV Pirveli – for airing a clip of “Going Home to Europe” to be alarming.

Per the Coalition’s 10 August statement, Georgian Dream in its appeal to the Commission indicates that the purpose of the proceedings is to eliminate negative messages about the party in the media and to limit critical opinions on issues that are undesirable to them.

“Preventing the showing of videos critical of the ruling party lacks a legal basis and threatens pluralism in the country. This kind of attitude is incompatible with the management principles of a modern, democratic state,” the Coalition emphasized.

The watchdog organization urges the Commission not to continue the practice of limiting critical media outlets and to consider both the importance of this contentious issue and the risks of limiting media freedom when making a decision.

Georgian Dream’s Appeal

The Coalition’s statement following the ruling party’s appeal to the Communications Commission on 5 August, signed by Sergo Zorbenadze, a person entrusted by the chairperson of the party, Irakli Kobakhidze.

The appeal states that the explicit purpose of the “pre-election/political advertisement video” aired by the TV stations on June 23 and 24, is to negatively represent the ruling party and “its idea” and prevent them from being elected in the future. Per Georgian Dream, by referring to specific faces in the advertisement, the ruling party is “clearly” identified.

In addition, according to the ruling party’s assessment, the commercial presents representatives of GD in a negative context “based on excerpts of statements taken out of context made by them regarding the European Parliament’s resolution, candidate status, and the ongoing war in Ukraine.”

Referring to election legislation, the ruling party said that pre-election/political advertising should be impartial and nondiscriminatory towards election subjects. At the same time, GD underscored that broadcasters are prohibited from airing paid or free political advertisements until 50 days before an election.

Per Georgian Dream, the three TV channels violated Articles 70(1) and 63(2) of the Georgian Law on Broadcasting by placing pre-election/political advertisements during a non-election period and requests that they be held administratively responsible.

Video Clip “Going Home to Europe”

In the video clip of the “Going Home to Europe” campaign, which called on citizens to take part in a pro-European rally in front of the Georgian Parliament on June 24, a family can be seen expressing anger as they listen to ruling party statements and those close to them about the war in Ukraine and EU candidate status.

For example, the following statement of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili can be seen and heard in the video – “I was talking about this on February 25, back then, that if anyone would be oppressed and punished by this war it would be Ukraine,” “Since Ukraine is at war, it is with this motivation, for this purpose, that they are given [EU candidate] status,” “This candidate status is symbolic.”

Other ruling party officials can be seen making similar statements, such as MP Kobakhidze can also be seen making following statements – “Such a resolution, frankly, has the price of straw,” Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze – “What we heard and saw yesterday in the form of a resolution was absolutely shameful,” – GD MP Gia Volski – “I would say that even in the European Parliament there are people who create fakes,” other statements like this also appear in the video.

TV Channels Respond

Tamta Muradashvili, Mtavari Arkhi TV’s lawyer, expressed certainty that the Communications Commission will determine that the TV stations violated the law and “punish” them. “I think they will take a special punitive measure against ‘Mtavari Arkhi’ because we are particularly bothersome to them,” she said.

Nana Aburjanidze, one of the directors of TV Pirveli, does not expect the Commission to consider the issue “in a truly legal framework and objectively.” “We, the critical media, have to exist in a very difficult situation, and this is another challenge, it seems like another sanction,” she underscored.

Misha Mshvildadze, one of the founders of Formula TV, asserted that it’s unclear what the ruling party did not like about the clip as there is nothing “manipulated” or interpreted in it. “[Kakha] Bekauri [the Chairperson of the Communications Commission] will not disappoint. I am sure that all three of us will be fined,” he said.

Law on Broadcasting:

Article 70(1): A broadcaster shall ensure the compliance of broadcast programmes, advertisements, and information about sponsors with the legislation of Georgia and license and/or authorization provisions.

Article 63(2): The placement of improper, unfair, unreliable, unethical, and clearly false advertisements or teleshopping is prohibited.

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