Must-carry and its discussions in Parliament (updated)
The amendment to the Electoral Code, passed by Parlimaent on June 30, requires cable TV providers to show all TV channels that hold a license for terrestrial broadcasting in their respective region (Kavkasia TV, for example, would be included in Tbilisi cable networks only). Must-carry status will also be given to the channels of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (Channel 1, Channel 2 and PIK).
The draft also covers channels that do not hold a license for broadcasting via antenna but are broadcast via satellite (this rule covers Maestro TV and TV9) and grants them a nationwide must-carry status in the pre-election period, which starts 60 days before the elections.
Update, June 29:
The second committee hearing (Legal Issues Committee, June 28) has resulted in the following changes in the draft, introduced by MP Pavle Kublashvili (UNM):
- Must-carry applies to TV stations holding a satellite or local terrestrial license, and has a technical reach of at least 20% of Georgia's population. This new clause will allow Kavkasia TV, a local Tbilisi-based station to get nationwide must-carry status;
- The End date of must-carry remains to be the end of the pre-election campaign (i.e. the day before the elections), about which negative opinions were expressed by Lasha Tughushi (This Affects You Too) and Levan Vepkhvadze (Christian-Democratic Movement). In response to opponents Kublashvili once again reiterated that the goal of the must-carry initiative is to provide political parties equal opportunities during the campaign period, therefore the regulation will end before the E-day;
- A must-offer clause was introduced: a broadcaster must make its signal available to customers in a non-discriminatory way;
- There will be a warning for violating must-carry, and a violator will have 3 days to comply. In case of non-compliance and repreated violations, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) may suspend a cable provider's authorization for 1 year cancellation of authorization for 1 year;
- A ruling of the GNCC may only be appealed in court by cable operators and broadcasters, not by political parties.
- A ruling of the GNCC may be appealed at the Tbilisi City Court within 48 hours after its announcement, in compliance with the Administrative Offenses Code;
- Tbilisi City Court must rule on the dispute within 2 days; its ruling may be appealed in Tbilisi Appeal Court which must issue a final ruling within 2 days.
- The GNCC must inform broadcasters and cable operators on their must-carry/offer obligations and publish list of affected entities beforehand.
Update 2, June 28:
Summary of discussion in the 1st plenary hearing (June 28)
MP Pavle Kublashvili (UNM) emphasized that this initiative is aimed at raising the level of awareness about political platforms of parties prior to elections. “There was a reason behind adoption of the legislation obligating broadcasters to air free political commercials; this is not an argument to be ignored like that.” He stated that there are many European countries that don’t have must-carry at all; some of them only obligate operators to retransmit public broadcasters.
Levan Vepkhvadze (CDM) and Guram Chakhvadze (National Democratic Party) supported the initiative but argued for the regulation to be extended until the anouncement of the official, final election results are announced. Both opposition MPs said that ending must-carry before election day will cause even more tension and radicalization of the population.
Vepkhvadze stated that the Georgian media market is not free, that’s why it was necessary to introduce obligations that give citizens at least the opportunity to switch from "Misha’s channel to Bidzina’s channel".
Jondi Baghaturia (Georgian Group) said the initiative was intended to cover up activities against Global TV, as a result of which the ruling party was scolded from abroad. He said that the UNM wants to end the regulation before E-day because they are preparing for massive violations and fraud. Baghaturia speculated about a plan to have Rustavi 2 announce wrong results and ultimately prevent their political opponents to organize a million people for protesting.
Tsiklauri (UNM) held Baghaturia’s words as evidence to why the opposition wanted to extend must-carry, i.e. using must-carry not in order to inform citizens about their political stance but to take people out for protests and "destroy the country". He also stated that it was natural for cable operators to have their editorial policy and financial interests, including exclusive transmission of certain TV channels. However, the pre-election campaign is a very special period for country in which such interference into the business of cable providers makes sense, Tsiklauri said.
Update 1, June 28:
Draft changes to the Georgian Election Code were discussed in the Legal Issues Committed (1st hearing) on June 27
Chair of the sitting: Pavle Kublashvili (United National Movement - UNM)
Presenter: Nugzar Tsiklauri (UNM)
Tsiklauri presented the draft law, stressing that the initiative will put an end to the political speculation and debates on this issue. Civil Society representatives of the This Affects You Too campaign took turns to ask questiions, comment and proposed several ammendments to the draft.
Main topics of the discussion are as follows:
1. End date of must-carry (the current draft proposes that the regulation is in force until the day of the elections)
2. Democracy argument:
- Tsiklauri: have not heard any valid arguments on why it is so crucial to extend the term of regulation; this draft law aims at enabling all political parties to reach citizens with their political platforms in the pre-election period in order for them to make an informed choice;
- Kublashvili: amendment was initiated to allow political actors reach the broader public specifically in the period when the pre-election campaign takes place; this is the same period when parties are given free political TV commercials.
- Levan Vepkhvadze (Christian Democrats): it makes no sense to not extend the obligation until the final, official results of the elections are announced; broader public should have access to alternative sources of information regarding violations as well.
- NGOs: The public should have access to alternative sources of information on cases of fraud. Counting ballots is an important stage of elections. We all know what happened after election results were announced in 2003.
- Tsiklauri: 2003 election fraud will not happen this time; there will be a strong presence of international observers.
3. Business argument:
- Tsiklauri: government does not want to interference in the private sector; we don’t want to impose obligations and pressure onto business for a long time. Would not have liked the state to tell him what and how to produce, for example, when he was in the publishing business himself.
- Levan Dolidze (Levan Mikeladze Foundation, This Affects You Too): This is not the first time that Georgian law imposes obligations on business sector; there are regulations for companies in the telecommunications sector in place already;
- Nino Zuriashvili (Studio Monitor, This Affects You Too): “The affected sector, at least several cable operators who we have talked to, do not mind such regulations. They are happy that they will be obligated to transmit certain TV channels, as right now they refrain from doing so in order to avoid problems with authorities. The Georgian government should undertake one more democratic step and lengthen the period of what you call pressure (on businesses) and what we call freedom”.
- Eka Gigauri (TI Georgia, This Affects You Too): penalties for violating must-carry regulation need to be included in the legislation. NGOs propose 25,000 GEL fine for a first time offense and 75,000 GEL for a repeated breach.
- Kublashvili: agreed that sanctions should be included; however, not sure if monetary penalties are reasonable or necessary; warnings or the cancellation of a cable operator's license could might also be appropriate sanctions.
- Tsiklauri, Kublashvili: ruling party will be happy, if possible, to come up with good wording that will allow also Kavkasia to receive nationwide must-carry status, along with Maestro and TV 9 (the latter are both transmitted via satellite, Kavkasia can be received via antenna in and aroudn Tbilisi); suggestions welcome. Kavkasia is already working on getting a satellite license from the GNCC, they said.
- Lasha Tughushi (newspaper Rezonansi, This Affects You Too): proposed to set a coverage criterion -- Kavkasia covers around/more than 25% of Georgia’s territory.
- Gigauri: must-offer regulation is not part of the current proposal; NGOs would like to see this principle reflected as well.
Must-offer is regulation that requires TV stations to make their signal available to any network operator (including cable companies and satellite TV operators) that wants to retransmit them and make these channels available to its customers. This principle would ensure that TV stations cannot misuse their market power and discriminate against selected companies.
Other points made:
- Bi-election periods (any run-offs for majoritarian candidates) should also be regulated by this law;
- A shorter time-frame must be determined for settling disputes between cable operators and signal providers, “we cannot let them last endlessly”;
- Quality of retransmission should also be regulated somehow.
Gigauri: How will the relationship between the cable operators and TV stations be regulated? Any guidelines?
- Kublashvili: good question, this should be discussed.
Topics for further discussion:
Kublashvili summarized what points are up for discussion:
- How to have Kavkasia included in the regulation;
- Including the must-offer component;
- Sanctions for violating must-carry regulation should be there too, although probably not financial fines;
- Procedures of relationship between cable operators and TV channels should be defined.
Update, June 27:
The Georgian Parliament today will today (17:00) discuss an amendment to the Electoral Code, introducing a must-carry principle in the pre-election period – a concept that has been advocated for by the This Affects You Too campaign, of which TI Georgia leading member.
The explanatory note (published in the Georgian language version of this blog) highlights that the amendment is aimed at promoting better access to different sources of information ahead of the elections.
Here is an unofficial translation of the amendment as it was registered in the Parliament on Tuesday, June 26:
From the moment when the President announces the date of the election, until election day, the person authorized for a transit [cable TV operators, TI Georgia] is obliged to include into their package the Public Broadcaster and all those broadcasters which have obtained licenses, according to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting and which broadcast in the respective broadcasting zone (for the satellite license holders this zone is the country’s total territory). In such cases, the broadcaster has no financial obligation towards the authorized person to charge it for a transit.
This Affects You Too has proposed several points to be reflected in these amendments (Georgian only):
- The end date of this regulation should be the date of the official results of the elections, rather than election day, which would mean that must-carry rules are in force until for several days after the elections;
- The coalition proposes that concrete fines for cable operators that violate must-carry rules are included in the law;
- The role of the Georgian National Communications Commission in enforcing must-carry should be clarified and reflected in the law.
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