The Georgian National Communications Commission satisfied the complaint filed by the ruling Georgian Dream party against three opposition TV stations – Mtavari Arkhi TV, Formula, and TV Pirveli – for airing a clip of “Going Home to Europe” by fining Mtavari Arkhi TV with GEL 118,688.67 (USD 42,319.85) and issuing a written warning to the latter two.
The ruling party filed the complaint with the Communications Commission on 5 August and demanded that the television stations be fined for “pre-election/political advertisement video” aired on 23 and 24 June. Per Georgian Dream’s explanation, the purpose of the video was to negatively represent the ruling party and “its idea” and prevent them from being elected in the future.
The Media Advocacy Coalition, a press freedom watchdog, responded to the ruling party’s complaint and labeled it “alarming.” “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 Commission ruled to issue only a verbal warning to Formula and TV Pirveli on the grounds that they did not have a similar violation last year, while Mtavari Arkhi TV violated the law for the second time during this period. Additionally, according to the Commission’s explanation, Mtavari Arkhi TV was accused 4 times of the same violation between 2019-2021.
The Commission considered the video clip aired by the TV stations to be a political advertisement and explained that by airing it during a non-election period they violated the law. “The broadcaster is limited in placing pre-election/political advertisements if there is no pre-election campaign. Pre-election/political advertisement placement on a broadcaster’s channel is prohibited until 50 days before the election.”
Per the Commission, “it is clear that the purpose of the advertisement placed on the air by the broadcasters was, on the one hand, to advertise the demonstration to be held on June 24, and, on the other hand, to present the political union Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia and their leaders in a negative context.”
Thus, according to its assessment, the video clip spreads information about leaders of the Georgian Dream, which is intended for an indefinite circle of people and “serves to form a negative opinion towards this political party and its members and prevent their election.”
“Besides, it should be taken into account that the manifestation itself had a political context. Based on the above, the Communications Commission considered the disputed video to be a political advertisement,” the Commission’s statement concluded.
TV Stations, Media Watchdog Respond
Giorgi Gabunia, acting director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, announced after the decision that they do not plan to pay the imposed fine and will appeal the Commission’s decision in Court.
“Once again we were fined for a pro-Europe clip, which doesn’t surprise me. Moreover, they would not miss this chance to make our already difficult financial situation even worse,” Gabunia said.
Gabunia added, “we have also heard direct threats, [that] if we continue like this and another pro-European clip gets on our airwaves, our license may be revoked, this will not surprise me either.”
According to Nana Aburjanidze, the commercial director of TV Pirveli, they had no doubt from the beginning that everything was “determined and staged in advance.” “We have [yet] another grievance with the Regulatory Commission.”
“Each time, I hope that at least once they might consider something objectively or that at least once the members of the Commission will make a logical decision, but again and again, they made another shameful, ridiculous decision,” she emphasized.
Eter Kavtaradze, Formula’s lawyer, believes that according to legislation such advertisements always fall under the “status of a social advertisement.” “However, in this case, the Commission considered that such a link is pre-election/political, which is wrong,” she added.
The Media Advocacy Coalition stated on 23 August that the Communication Commission’s decision is “unfounded and significantly worsens the media environment in Georgia.” They further emphasized that the decision against the three opposition TV stations “is of a political nation and is not based on legal grounds.”
They noted that the premise that it is a pre-election video cannot be considered seriously because none of the officials and persons seen in the clip are up for election.
The Coalition stated that Formula TV is being represented by one of its members, the Georgian Democratic Initiative (GDI) and that based on the grave consequences of the Commission’s decision, the Coalition is ready to protect the broadcasters’ interests as the dispute continues in Court.
Video Clip “Going Home to Europe”
In the video clip of the civil movement “Going Home to Europe,” 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.