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Bidding for Tbilisi's landmark TV Tower is on

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, July 29
On 28 July the Coalition for Media Advocacy carried out a silent protest against giving away the famous Tbilisi TV Antenna Tower to “a 4-year management” scheme. Gathered in front of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development a group uniting several watchdog and media organizations demanded the abolition of the electronic auction and requested clarification of the conditions of the bidding process. “We’re not against privatization - we just want more transparency as public interest towards these facilities is very high. Potential buyers must be given more time to understand what the 12 million GEL investment includes," Eliso Chapidze Deputy Editor of Rezonansi newspaper stated.

According to the terms of the auction the new manager of the company has to invest 12 million GEL over four years, and to "maintain the business profile of the enterprise". The Coalition for Media Advocacy working on the protection of journalists’ rights and improving access to public information demanded clarification of the "profile" of the Government-owned TV Tower to the potential investors.

Emphasizing the strategic importance of the object in question, Nino Jangirashvili Director of Kavkasia TV shared her concerns about the auction to The Messenger. Having filed an application demanding specifics of the process, Jangirashvili stressed that the information released by the Ministry on the E-Auction web page ( government authority) is not sufficient for making a serious business plan. “Everything is really vague about the case as neither the characteristics of the antenna nor its profile has been indicated on the web page. Moreover the auction was launched on July 18 and ends on August 1 which deepens suspicions about a corrupt deal between the Ministry and a private company,” she said. She is concerned that the new owner may find loopholes to change the profile of the tower or to establish discretionary broadcasting tariffs for favored media outlets.

According to the Law on Broadcasting, the Alfa-Comi company (formerly the Georgian TV-Radio Centre) is obligated to ensure equal access to its technical equipment for all broadcasters, and the tariffs should be based on the operation expenses of the equipment. However, the present auction doesn't lay out conditions concerning the tariffs. Media representatives and economic analysts agree that the Government may be trying to hide under the umbrella of a private company in order to secretly pressure and control the independent media.

Opposition parties which foresee obstacles for independent media in Georgia also protested on Thursday. Considering the situation on the media market and political system in Georgia, Giorgi Targamadze--Chairman of Christian-Democratic Movement--said that the Government is trying to monopolize all Georgian Radio and TV. Conservative Party member Lasha Chkhartishvili told The Messenger, “It’s obvious that the rapid auction of Tbilisi's TV antenna aims at oppressing the independent media. Introducing a factual offshore company to the market, the Government would secretly pressure impartial TV and radio outlets claiming they [the Government] have no real connection with the new owner,”

However, Gia Chanturia Director General of Georgian Public Broadcasters (GPB) hoped that the new ownership of the TV Antenna would be followed by positive changes. Calling it “an important step” in terms of improving broadcasting by digitalization, Chanturia stressed that financial sources are needed for carrying out this process in Georgia. Hoping that the new company would seek to decrease expenses and increase the quality of broadcasting throughout the country, Chanturia said GPB would first of all wait for the decision about the tariffs before taking relevant steps.

As Tea Bolkvadze, Head of Public Relations Department of the Ministry explained that the auction details give all the information necessary for potential investors, as all other obligations have been provided in “the Law on Broadcasting” and are equal for everyone. “There was no sense in rewriting the articles [into the conditions of auction] since the law is supreme for everyone,” Bolkvadze told us, claiming that the bidding process is absolutely transparent and the winner of the auction will become known to the public on August 1st."