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NGOs advocate for dialogue on Must Carry

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, September 13
It Affects You (Es Shen Gekheba), the National Platform of Eastern-Partnership Georgia and the Coalition for Media Advocacy, stated that the accessibility to a wide range of media is crucial for Georgia’s democratic development.

At a press conference on September 12, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili Chairperson of the Coordination Council for the National Platform stressed the importance of the Must Carry and Must Offer obligations for ensuring media plurality in the country– especially during the election process.

Tsikhelashvili stressed the importance of the continuation of Must Carry and Must Offer principles on Election Day and after and addressed the necessity for the fair distribution of Maestro’s satellite dishes which have been seized now for over a month.

The NGOs encouraged the government to create legislative guarantees to continue the Must Carry rules before all companies change over to digital broadcasting. However, explaining that the state could make such an exception only during the election period, Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze commented that Must Carry is a commercial agreement between the cable operator and the TV stations; that is why the parliament cannot always interfere.

Welcoming and supporting an agreement between any cable operator and TV channel about the continuation of long-term cooperation, Bakradze said the end of Must Carry does not mean that the cable operators should discontinue their cooperation with the TV companies.

On September 10, the Georgian authorities expressed their readiness to look over the decision pertaining to the seizure of Maestro’s satellite dishes so that the company could enlarge its coverage area with specific conditions.

“We, the representatives of NGOs, welcome the political will of the government and hope that it will be proved by the practical steps,” It Affects You, the National Platform of Eastern-Partnership Georgia and the Coalition for Media Advocacy said. In their joint statement the NGOs emphasized that on the one hand it would ensure the Georgian population’s accessibility to various Georgian TV channels and, on the other hand, quell suspicion of attempts of voter-bribing.

The NGOs also hoped that the interagency commission and Maestro TV would deal with the technical issues in time and ensure the rapid execution of a decision. “Moreover, we express our readiness to monitor the process and provide society with detailed information about the execution of the government’s political will,” reads the statement.

Ketevan Tsikhelashvili hoped that neither the public nor Maestro TV would “lose” from the conditions offered by the interagency commission.

Editor-in-chief of Resonansi newspaper, Lasha Tugushi, said although their model of distribution antennas differed from the one offered by the commission, it is possible that the antennas would reach the users on behalf of Maestro TV. “The most important is the purpose,” Tugushi said, stressing that the price of antennas should be logical and fair and they should be delivered in time.

United States Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) Thomas O. Melia of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor also welcomed 60-day Must Carry campaign designed for ensuring media accessibility during the election period and supported the idea of continuing the this principle after the elections. “Every step that encourages wide access to diverse opinions and media sources, is the fundamental value of democracy,” said Melia.