Television in Georgia – Ownership, Control and Regulation
Today, Georgia's media is less free and pluralistic than it was before the Rose Revolution in 2003 and the ousting of President Eduard Shevardnadze. While the country enjoys a pluralistic, albeit small print media, Georgia lacks a truly pluralistic television sector. Television remains the dominant source of information for most Georgians. “We have 27 independent channels in Georgia, we have dozens of political talk shows every day”, President Mikheil Saakasvhili stated in an interview with CNN on October 15th. In fact, there are more than 27 channels in Georgia. However, it remains unclear, who actually owns and controls most of the country's TV stations. In the European Union's Neighborhood Policy action plan, Georgia has committed to ensuring and improving freedom of the media, one of the fundamental institutions necessary to develop and consolidate a democratic political system. In late October, the EU further stressed that “freedom of expression and freedom of the media are essential elements in the bilateral dialogue with Georgia.” This report not only tries to shed some light on the ownership of the country's broadcasters but also provides an assessment of the market environment television stations are operating in. Furthermore, it looks at the role of the institution charged with regulating electronic communication, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), and at the planned reform of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB). Georgia's current regulation of the broadcasting sector has proven insufficient to ensure a transparent media ownership regime and to promote a competitive, pluralistic television market. This problem could be addressed by an amendment of the broadcasting law, in order to ensure that sufficient information about the shareholder structure of license holders and their indirect owners is reported to the GNCC and also made accessible to the general public. The GNCC is not perceived as a truly independent regulatory body. Thus, an effort should be made to depoliticize the regulator and increase its credibility by revising the process of how its commissioners are appointed. There is also an urgent need for a comprehensive reform of the GPB, which currently operates more like a state broadcaster rather than a real public service institution. President Saakashvili's plan to enlarge the broadcaster's board from nine to 15 members, allowing opposition parties to appoint seven of the board members, is likely to lead to increased political influence on the GPB's programming. A strengthened Channel 1, showing informative and critical news and reports, could provide important momentum and contribute to a more pluralistic television landscape in Georgia. Financially, the independence of the broadcaster is not ensured either. Currently, the government decides on the GPB's annual funding which comes from the national budget. Intensive thought should be given to the idea of funding the GPB with an obligatory fee to be paid by each household or to reintroducing the previous financing system, under which the broadcaster received at least the equivalent of 0.15 percent of the Georgian GDP.