Usage of social advertisements for pre-election campaigns, unavailability of different news channels to population and partial coverage of events by national broadcasters were the topics discussed by representatives of Georgian non-governmental organizations and journalists at 1 June meeting on media and elections.
Columbia University professors and US journalists Joshua Friedman and Thomas Edsall also participated in the meeting.
The meeting participants believe that 2012 elections are different as there is a real competition between participants, which makes the role of media more important, as it has to provide the public with the information about competitors, which does not happen quite often.
Nina Khatiskatsi, representative of the International Transparency Georgia recalled the case when national broadcasters partially covered the issue of donations to political parties.
“At the end of December the Prosecutor’s Office circulated information about the four Georgian Dream Coalition member political parties. National channels paid attention to the given fact. Reports claimed it was a great problem as those political parties have received donations from 11 different Companies, which in reality are backed up by two sources,” Khatiskaci said and clarified that “it really was avoidance of the law. Limit for donations was GEL 100 thousand and these two persons divided the whole amount among 11 different companies. It is noteworthy that the same problem was in 2008-2010 elections too, but at that time only the National Movement (governing party) received donations in the analogous way from legal persons. The national channels did not report this then, although the fact was reflected in different official reports.”
Khatiskatsi believes that such partial covering of topics will not insure provision of full information to the public.
The second important topic that the International Transparency Georgia representative spoke about is the usage of social advertisements by government for pre-election purposes. According to Khatiskatsi, her Organization “studied four social advertisements in which the National Movement was not directly mentioned, although the videos did not have social advertisement features.”
“Such advertisements must provide useful information to population, while in these videos there was no such thing; while there was information that years agoGeorgiawas in darkness and now the reality is a lot better and the country will become even better in future. Political figures from the governing party could be seen in the advertisements, which affects the voters,” Khatiskatsi said. She believes that social advertisements must be better regulated and airing of social advertisements as they are now must be punishable.
Shalva Ramishvili, author of the Without Accreditation program of Maestro TV spoke about the necessity for introducing the Must Carry principle (the principle that obliges cable providers to rebroadcast signals of different TV-Companies.) He recalled covering of Solom Kimeridze’s death, when three national channels – Imedi,Rustavi2 and the First Channel reported the given incident with same footage and texts to the audience.
“All three reports said that group of Georgian Dream supporters caused tension in the family of the deceased. They did not say anything why we were there and why we wanted to cover the given topic,” Ramishvili recalls. “Viewers of those channels would think that I’m into necrophilia and like filming the deceased for creating tension,” Ramishvili stressed.
According to him, in such a situation it would be very important to introduce the Must Carry principle, as population, especially in regions receives information only from national channels.
Media Expert Nino Danelia believes that the government is trying to conceal diverse information from population, as they “know that if people receive information they will appear in a very competitive environment. They do not want this, as they are busy with rebuilding the country and in the process of rebuilding there is no place for democracy. I regret that the government that came with democratic values later realized that authoritative power would be easier and it has become impossible to communicate with them,” Danelia stressed.
Joshua Friedman summarized the discussion and said thatGeorgiais a young democracy and in such conditions possibility for circulation of information is of great importance.
“Circulation of objective information is very important. Despite the fact that you are being interfered in this with help of the enthusiasm that I saw here today, I believe you will be able to do it,” Friedman addressed the journalists.