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11.06.2010 19:10

Transparency - in Buildings

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

Having made an announcement on the "new wave of democratic reforms" in September 2008 President Saakashvili said insufficient freedom of media was "the main challenge of democracy," he was planning to deal with. In his regard, President said, he wouldn't "poke his nose" into the activities of private media companies, in addition to the reformation of the public broadcaster he would secure TV air more accessible to the opposition parties. A year later EU reminded Saakashvili of his pledge through its April, 2009 report on the Implementation of Georgia's European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan saying that "Media freedom and pluralism still remains as a matter of concern in the country."

And two years later, in 2010, it was evident that even a reformed public broadcaster failed to maintain absolute impartiality. "During the media monitoring of the last six weeks of the election campaign, the qualitative analysis indicated that United National Movement received slightly more positive coverage than Alliance for Georgia." (Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, May 30, 2010).

It doesn't matter whether GPB1kept Alliance for Georgia down or, let's say, Tortladze - Democrats. Who did it benefit to as a result, that's the issue. UNM was the one having gained benefit (notwithstanding its scale) and it's of special importance since the issue of so called private media ownership, President had pledged never to "poke his nose into", still remains as one of the most nontransparent fields in the country being proud of transparent buildings.

Owner is the one determining media line and especially in the countries like ours: with monopolized market, labor law beneficial to the employer and high level of unemployment. Under the circumstances it's extremely alarming when "media is divided along political lines and many outlets remain strongly influenced by their owners." (Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, May 30, 2010). And especially if "the distinction between the state and the ruling party was sometimes blurred and there is not always a clear distinction between the official and party functions of public officials" (same document).

According to the November 20, 2010 International Transparency Georgia survey on Television in Georgia - Ownership, Control and Regulation "the dominant co-owner of Georgia's most influential channel, Rustavi 2, and of Mze is Degson Limited registered at the British Virgin Islands. Another mysterious entity called Denal Union, which controls 100 percent of Sakartvelo (and holds 51 percent of Evrika), seems to be closely linked to the Georgian Ministry of Defense. Similarly, the legal structure of Rakeen and its subsidiary, RAAK Georgia Holding, which owns 90 percent of Imedi, is not transparent and fuels allegations about the involvement of Georgian individuals in this enterprise."

According to the same survey The Georgian Industrial Group (GIG) not only controls 30 percent of the shares of Rustavi 2, but also 45 percent of Mze, an entertainment channel, (with the off-shore entity Degson Limited as the major shareholder in both stations) and 65 percent of I Stereo. Furthermore, GIG owns Georgian Business Consulting, which publishes the English newspaper Georgian Business Week and operates the news-wire The group was founded by Davit Bezhuashvili, member of Parliament for the ruling party and brother of the current chief of the Georgian intelligence service and former minister of foreign affairs, Gela Bezhuashvili.  The fact that GIG's subsidiary, Georgian Media Incorporated, publicly considered buying Imedi's shares last year, have provided the group with control over more than two thirds of the television market .

TI Georgia failed to glean more info about the media companies registered in the offshore zone. This information is generally unavailable which makes the doubts about the involvement of the individuals allied with the authorities or the representatives or authorities themselves even steadier. Recent amendments to the legislation give another reason for ambiguity. Current norms are conducive to concentrating media in one or several owners which is eventually leading to the monopolization of information, stance.

Under the circumstances it is worthy to mention the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) - the body set up to regulate the problems of the kind, being manned according to a rather interesting rule. The commission is made up of five members. According to Article 9 of the Law on Broadcasting "Candidates for Commissioner are selected through open competition. The President of Georgia makes a decision on the selection and submission to Parliament of at least 3 candidates for each vacant position. Parliament by means of secret ballot gives consent to the President for the appointment of Commissioners. The candidate winning the majority of votes shall be nominated as a Commissioner. The President of Georgia shall appoint the candidates approved by Parliament. The President of Georgia shall appoint one of the Commissioners to the position of Chairperson of the Commission." Freedom House is critical to the procedure. According to the organization GNCC, following the existing rule, falls under the influence of the authorities (Press Freedom, Georgia 2009).

On the on side the media, officially under private ownership, whose actual owners remain disguised, and on the other side Georgian Public Broadcasting who has failed to become completely "public" since its board members are selected and appointed by the authorities, (under the circumstances Georgian TV space is less independent than in 2003 - IT Georgia, Television in Georgia - Ownership, Control and Regulation, November 20, 2009), plus GNNC who falls under the government influence (Freedom House, Press Freedom, Georgia 2009) doesn't drift us closer to the civil society as a result. The coverage of the recent elections is clear evidence.

None of the national channels scrutinized the problems emphasized in the May 30, 2010 Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. For instance:

"The very high rates for paid political advertisement on the main television channels limited contestants' possibilities to campaign in the media."

"The provisions which allow unlimited campaigning by certain public officials and the use of administrative resources for campaign purposes do not guarantee a level playing field."

"Lack of clarity on procedures and competences left much discretion to election commissions with regard to the review of complaints and resulted in inconsistent practices."

"Across the country, the number of registered voters per single-mandate constituency varies considerably within one and the same local-government unit, at times by more than 1,000 per cent. Such large deviations undermine the equality of the vote.

"IEOM observers assessed the vote count more negatively, with one in five counts observed assessed as bad or very bad and significant procedural errors and omissions reported from over one quarter of counts observed. A considerable number of PECs did not perform basic reconciliation procedures required by law, such as counting and entering into the protocols the number if voters' signatures on the voter list or of unused ballots. In many counts observed, voters' choices were not announced aloud, and in the majority of counts, ballots were not shown to everybody present. Ballots validity was not always determined in a reasonable and consistent manner. IEOM observers reported that frequently, non-PEC members participated in the count. They also reported three cases of falsification of voters' list entries, results or protocols."

Unfortunately "the main challenge of the Georgian democracy" still remains as a challenge and as long as it is so the top interest of the Georgian media, instead of most essential human right such as freedom of choice, will be the news "the biggest egg in the world is Georgian" followed after Nodar Kumaritashvili's tragic story (Georgian luger who suffered a fatal crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics competition in Vancouver, Canada) aired through the 4 June 9-o'clock Courier news outlet.







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