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Government seizure of satellite dishes draws mixed reactions

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, June 25
Satellite dishes and receivers owned by Global Contact Consulting (Global TV) were seized on June 21. The distribution of antennas in Georgian regions “free of charge” was considered as a vote-buying tactic and thus a criminal investigation ensued.

Global TV, co-owned by Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s brother, offered its clients the opportunity to sign a ten-year contract with the company- paying GEL 4 per month from the second year.

Connecting Global TV with Ivanishvili’s name, Tbilisi City Court ordered the decree aimed at "avoiding the criminalization of electoral processes and ensuring respect of the rights of individuals and political parties."

Thousands of new satellite dishes were sealed at the storage warehouses of Global TV and Ltd Elita Burji. Zurab Bazilidze, Global TV's representative, called it a pressure tactic on the media organization’s activities and added that they would file a suit against the General Prosecutor’s Office at the Appeals Court.

According to the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) who had been actively engaged in the Global TV related processes, the government should be careful in imposing sanctions against the media. The GYLA addressed the court and law enforcement agencies, telling them to avoid imposing limitation that can affect the freedom of expression, media plurality and the rights on property.

In a statement released on June 24, they said the attempt of bribing voters can’t be sanctioned with seizing the property, especially as there is no particular person guilty of bribing in the court decision but a legal entity.

Transparency International Georgia called on the Prosecutor’s Office "to ensure that all actions that affect media companies are undertaken in a transparent and proportionate manner" especially ahead of the October 2012 parliamentary elections, when "freedom of the media and access to information" are crucial to ensure a free and fair campaign.

Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi advised the government to be more careful with the issues related to "direct or indirect spread of information" through the media, especially during the pre-election period. He added that any type of broadcaster operating in the country should have a maximum area of coverage.

The ruling United National Movement (UNM) MPs welcomed the supremacy of law and discouraged any attempt of voter-buying. MP Giorgi Kandelaki said Georgia is a free country with open political competition where the media is accessible for everybody. MP Giorgi Meladze also found the seizure of Global TV antennas "acceptable and legal".

"The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs continues its zero-tolerance policy against any attempt of elections falsification and voter-bribing," Deputy Minister Eka Zguladze said, adding that Global TV’s case has no connection with media accessibility.

But as Global TV is the only cable operator which ensured the broadcasting of the Ninth Channel owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife. There is a doubt that the decision of seizing Global TV was caused by its distribution of the Ninth Channel.

In a statement released by the Georgian Dream, the government is in "agony" trying to keep society in an "information vacuum" and hinder distribution of truthful information within the regions. Having informed the diplomatic corps and international organizations about the Global TV case, the political coalition hoped that international society would see "the real face" of the Georgian government.