22 May Open Society Georgia Foundation organized an international conference Digital Media Map dedicated to the discussion of problems appearing with the switchover to digital broadcasting (digitalization).
According to the representative of Kazakhstan Frederik Emrich the main hampering factor in the process of digitalization in his country was that majority of TV-Companies are funded by the state. “It is still obscure which broadcasters are funded by the government and which are not. One TV-Company for example is partly owned by Kazakhstan and partly by Russia,” Emrich stressed.
According to him, when correctly conducting the process the significant problem was the lack of independent regulatory body which would protect media freedom and pluralism. “In our country digitalization process was prolonged in time; it will be possible to digitalize 80% of population only by 2014,” Kazakhstan representative said.
It took Lithuania 9 years for switching over to digital broadcasting. Arturas Racas who represented Lithuania, stated that digitalization strategy was approved in 2003 although the country switched over to digital broadcasting only in October 2012. One multiplex is owned by the state and the second one was purchased by a private company.
According to Arturas Rasas main TV-Companies lost viewers after digitalization as the given process has promoted extension of the audience of other channels.
Additionally, according to the Lithuanian guest, after switchover to digital broadcasting the TV-Companies did not gain the main advantage – low tariff of broadcasting as competition did not develop adequately and one operator set high fee. That is why the Lithuanian guest emphasized the importance of competition and advised Georgian colleagues to work actively in the given direction.
Rita Rudusa, representative of Open Society Georgian Foundation marked the importance of competition also and said that Georgia has little time left for switchover to digital broadcasting. June 2015 is the deadline so there is less and less time for creating competitive business environment in the given sphere.
“Due to the lack of time private companies will not manage to build the network and there will be danger for the state to become multiplex operator. There will be no place for competition,” Rita Rudusa stressed.
Georgia, which has only 2 years left for switchover to digital broadcasting, has not even developed a strategy yet. Civil society sector Institute of Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) 21 May presented its strategy and vision to the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development which is responsible for the digitalization process implementation. IDFI Director Giorgi Kldiashvili gave brief information about the given research to the conference participants. In response the Deputy Head of the Information Technologies and Innovations of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development Jemal Vashakidze stated that if the Ministry has not started the process, the non-governmental sector would not be able to start the process. As at other meetings he again repeated that “Georgia does not have the right to make mistakes; during the past period they have been studying foreign experience in order for Georgia not to make the same mistakes.
“Although there’s lack of time we will manage to do everything, in order to consider everyone’s interests,” Jemal Vashakidze stressed.
Georgia broadcasts in analogue format now and switchover to digital broadcasting is an international obligation. ITU set 17 June 2015as deadline for switchover to digital broadcasting to European countries. In 2006 Georgia also took the given obligation and signed Geneva Agreement.