TI Georgia outlines Georgian TV sector problems
By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, November 24Georgia’s media is less free and pluralistic than it was before the Rose Revolution in 2003, according to Transparency International Georgia’s report on the Georgian media released on November 20. In a 20-page document, TI Georgia highlights that the current regulations on media broadcasting have “proven insufficient to ensure a transparent media ownership regime and promote a competitive, pluralistic television market.”
The report suggests that these problems could be resolved by amending the broadcasting law to ensure that sufficient information about the shareholding structure of license holders and their indirect owners is reported to the Georgian National Communications Commission and made accessible to the general public. The authors of the report note however that the “GNCC is not perceived as a truly independent regulatory body.” The report suggests that there is an “urgent” need to depoliticise the regulatory body and increase its credibility by revising the process of appointing its commissioners.
Georgian Public Broadcaster also attracts TI’s criticism, as the authors of the report say that there is an “urgent” necessity for comprehensive reform of the GPB, which, according to the report, “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 9 to 15 members, allowing opposition parties to appoint seven of the board members, is likely to lead to increased political influence on GPB’s programming,” the report notes “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,” it continues.
TI suggests giving more financial freedom to the broadcaster. “Financially, the independence of the Broadcaster is not ensured either,” TI says. “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 GPB with an obligatory fee to be paid by each household, or to reintroducing the previous financial system, under which the broadcaster received at least the equivalent of 0.15 percent of Georgian GDP,” the report states.
The report highlights the problem of the lack of transparency in television station ownership. It says there is no provision in Georgian media legislation restricting the foreign ownership of TV outlets. “Individuals aiming to anonymously control private TV stations have taken advantage of this liberal regulation and established offshore post boxes in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, where Degson Limited, dominant co-owner of Georgia’s most influential channel, Rustavi 2, and of Mze, another national channel, is registered,” the authors of the report state, adding that another mysterious entity, called Denal Union, controlling 100 percent of the Sakartvelo TV channel, seems to be closely linked to the Georgian Defence Ministry. “Similarly the legal structure of Rakeen and its subsidiary, RAK Georgia Holding, which owns 90 percent of Imedi TV, is not transparent and fuels allegations about the involvement of Georgian individuals in this enterprise,” the report states.
TI says that due to the current lack of appropriate regulation to ensure the sufficient transparency of television ownership allegations about who the real owners of the TV stations are have become widespread. “High-ranking Government and National Movement officials, certain Ministers and also opposition leaders are suspected of controlling Georgia’s most influential media outlets,” the TI report reads.