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Communications Commission fines Stereo Plus for illegal broadcasts

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, June 8
Davit Zilphimiani, the founder of television company First Stereo and Stereo Plus, has been fined 5,000 GEL for violating its broadcast license.

According to Kakha Kurashvili, head of the Legal Protection Department of the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC), Stereo Plus has a license for broadcasting using radio waves, not television signals, which it violated by airing the Ninth Channel.

Earlier this week, it became possible to capture the signals of Ninth Channel with ordinary television antennas with the help of Stereo Plus. The GNCC ordered Zilphimiani to cease broadcasting by 2 pm Thursday, otherwise it would be forcibly switched off by the television antenna management company.

Calling the Commission's decision “absurd”, Zilphimiani plans to appeal in court against the “illegal decision.” He said it is not in his authority to switch off the signal but it is a “fundamental scientific law” that makes it possible for people to catch signals through an ordinary TV antenna. He claims that from the day he signed a contract with the Ninth Channel - which is owned by Ekaterina Ivanishvili, wife of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina - Stereo Plus has been the target of oppression.

“It’s nonsense that none of the GNCC members are communication specialists,” Zilphimiani remarked, stressing that he has signed agreements with various companies for different services since 2006 without problems. He accused the Commission of having "political motives", wondering why the problem emerged after his co-operation with the Ninth Channel became public.

“I’m following every law, I haven’t violated anything,” Zilphimiani told The Messenger. He maintains that it does not matter whether a television company has a license for satellite or cable broadcasting Stereo Plus has a general right to broadcast.

But as GNCC spokesperson Khatia Kurashvili explained, the frequency Stereo Plus uses for transmitting the Ninth Channel is being modified, and is under Zilphimaiani's control. She says that the only thing Stereo Plus has to do is to obey the conditions of his license.

General Director of the Ninth Channel, Kakha Bekauri, called the GNCC's decision a “rude limitation of freedom of speech.” He maintains that Commission members are unable to provide the network with a single proof of illegal broadcasting.

Ilia Kikabidze, General Director of Maestro TV, expressed solidarity for his peers at the Ninth Channel. Worried that another company could face a similar problem one day, Kikabidze has proposed new legislation, with Must Offer and Must Carry obligations, to ensure equal access to television channels for all consumers. “This law could change the entire picture in the TV space,” he said, adding that GNCC often makes mistakes with the media.