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Must Carry – Truth or Myth

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, June 27
Draft law amendments pertaining to the Must Carry rules introduction were presented and registered by the Georgian Parliament on June 26. After their approval, cable operators will be obliged to transmit all TV channels with news and political programs at least 60 days prior to elections.

The draft envisages Article 17 and 51 of the Georgian election code. According to the added paragraphs, broadcasting transit-authorized subjects, according to the Law on Broadcasting, will be obliged to carry for their clients all channels with news and political programs within their broadcasting transit geographical zone covered by broadcasting transit service providers.

As for the satellite-broadcasters, the broadcasting area will cover the entire Georgian territory. In this case, the transit service providers will not be eligible to charge television transit service fees.

According to the draft law, Channel 9 as well as Tbilisi-based satellite licensed channel Maestro TV will both become available in a package of all cable TV providers in the country.

The proposed draft however, does not oblige regional cable operators to carry in their packages Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV, which is licensed to cover Tbilisi only.

Likewise, Tbilisi-based cable operators will not be obligated to transmit TV stations, which cover only a specific area in a province outside Tbilisi.

According to the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC), as of the end of 2011, there were just over 171,000 subscribers to cable operators in Georgia.

Nonetheless, the ruling party agreed to introduce MUST CARRY and MUST OFFER during the relatively short pre-election period, the presented draft law amendments still remain very vague and ambivalent, thereby triggering skepticism from media representatives, analysts, and opposition parties alike.

The Head of the Elections and Political Technology Research Center, Kakha Kakhishvili, said that the government is not interested in implementing a real Must Carry in the country.

“The ruling party just pushed forward the issue to recover illegalities concerning Global TV (the cable companies’ antennas had been seized) and to display for the international community, an image that reflects the Georgian government's interest in providing the public with diverse information,” Kakhishvili told The Messenger. He also outlined that the ruling administration has lots of levers to hinder the process. “For example, the government might oblige the cable companies to transmit signals, meanwhile demanding from them to transmit weak signals of those disliked by the government TV’s. In this case, people will still be unable to watch them. It is just a single example, but their levers are too many,” Kakhishvili added.

Journalist Shalva Ramishvili opines that the president-controlled cable companies will refuse to transit new signals [MaestroTV, Channel 9 and Caucasia] referring to technical problems. “The second swindle is that on the second post-election day, when the most important events will occur, cable companies will cease the signal,” said Ramishvili.

Tamar Chugoshvili, head of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and the This Affects You Too campaign, said that must-carry should apply not only in a pre-election period, but also in the post-election period, at least until the announcement of the final official results of the elections, which are announced by the Central Election Commission within 19 days of the conclusion of the election.

Currently neither Maestro TV nor Channel 9 is available in packages offered by the largest cable networks Silk TV, and Caucasus TV. According to the channels' management teams, this is a politically motivated decision.