Georgian media: Never have so many, broadcasted so much, to so few! 1

On paper the Georgia television media seems to be diverse and pluralistic. In reality few Georgians can hear more than one side of the story unless the recommendations of Georgian civil society are implemented.

Supporters of the Georgian government often refer to the period pre 2003 “Rose Revolution” as a time when Georgia was a quasi-failed state – which it probably was, and a corrupt society – which it definitely was. What they do not say however is that in this time Georgia also had the most free media environment in the post-Soviet space, where criticism of the government had become a national pastime, and journalists expected and received the respect of society.

Things started changing after 2004. Rustavi 2, up to that point the main opposition station, became pro government, and through cajoling or coercion most other media outlets fell in line. The low point came in November 2007 when Imedi TV, which was at that point spearheading criticism of the government, was occupied by the security forces, and eventually turned into a government mouthpiece. Since then there have been many attempts to try to launch alternative media outlets. Maestro TV, working on what looked like a shoestring budget, tried to provide an alternative space. But they were mainly half-hearted efforts. Over the last two years some important developments did occur, including the launch of a number of television stations in Tbilisi and beyond, which have the patronage of the opposition. One of them is the recently launched pro opposition Channel 9.

The problem is that whilst many are now broadcasting, very few are watching. Several channels are by and large inaccessible for most Georgians. This is a result of a byzantine labyrinth of laws, commercial decisions and intricacies that have left Georgia with a pluralistic media on paper but not in reality. TV stations, except the state controlled Public Television rely on cable networks to carry their programmes. Some cable networks refuse to carry certain stations to their subscribers, while some TV channels have themselves refused to be carried by one of the cable providers.

So for example, Tbilisi-based Maestro TV is not available in packages offered by Silk TV and Caucasus TV cable networks, which Maestro TV says is a politically-motivated decision. Channel 9, is not available for most of the viewers because it is now only carried by one cable operator, Global TV. Global TV itself cannot carry several TV channels, including the 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 that this 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 the number of households with access to Channel 9’s broadcasts.

The issue has been taken up by the civil society coalition “This affects you”. In an appeal to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton the group urges her to raise the issue with the Georgian government. The Group cites the recent Department of State’s human rights country report on Georgia which says that Georgian citizens “had limited access to diverse and unfettered media.” The issue is raised by the group in the package of legislative proposals which it announced recently, which suggest the introduction of “must-carry” and “must-offer” principles into the legislation regulating broadcasting.

“Their adoption would ensure that the Georgian public can access independent television channels,” the group says. “If the Georgian Government were to accept this proposal, we believe that this would address the controversy about the public availability of electoral information during the run-up to the elections.”

However some MPs from the ruling United National Movement have already expressed criticism of the proposals saying this would entail meddling in the business of private commercial companies. Others however disagree and say that the issue of balanced news broadcasting is central to any proper political system and that the proposals of the civil society coalition are worthy of consideration.

Source: CEW with various media outlets.

Georgian Media: Never have

so many, broadcasted so much,

to so few!