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Must Carry policy moves forward

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, June 26
European Union Ambassador to Georgia, Philip Dimitrov, welcomed the possibility of legalizing the Must Carry obligations initiated by the Georgian parliament. Dimitrov said on Monday that it would be “a very important step” in terms of preparing the electorate. “It seems that long discussions around the issue have successfully ended,” he said, adding the Must Carry obligation would encourage a healthy election environment in the country and would also serve as a precondition for democratic and transparent elections.

The ambassador said that the introduction of the Must Carry legislation confirms that there exists the will to develop a fair election environment and to establish the democratic principle of providing an equal political playground. He said the Georgian government has previously considered the practice of European countries in ensuring equal access to diverse information.

Parliamentary consultations about the so-called Must Carry policy are under way. After defining the obligations for the cable TV operators during the election period, the legislative initiative will be introduced to the Parliamentary Bureau at the end of the week. “Our plan is to finally polish the initiative today, so that we can register it tomorrow and in the ensuing days, discuss it at the plenary sessions,” Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze said on Monday.

Aimed at ensuring a free and fair election environment in the country, the Must Carry policy would oblige the cable TV operators to transmit every TV company so that Georgian society could access information without restrictions during the electoral period. The changes would go into effect as soon as the election date is announce and last for around two-months until the end of elections.

Bakradze said that it would provide voters an opportunity to make a more informed decisions at the voting stalls this fall. Hoping that this step would ensure the continued democratization of the election environment, the parliamentary chairman plans to hold additional meetings this week, as the parliamentary spring session ends this Friday.

According to Chiora Taktakishvili, Deputy Chair of the parliament Legal Issues Committee working on the project, the changes will enter the election code and refer to all TV companies broadcasting on frequencies, as well as on satellite.

At first, the ruling United National Movement (UNM) MPs considered the Must Carry obligation to be a rude intervention into the private sector because it defined the content the TV companies must provide by obliging them to have news programs. But on June 22, the parliamentary chairman personally initiated the introduction of the Must Carry principles during the election period.

Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) member, Levan Vepkhvadze, said it is important that the voters receive different information from TV channels and make decisions according to what they hear. “It would really assist in the creation of a pluralistic environment,” Vepkhvadze said, adding that the CDM had been supporting this idea from the very beginning when the NGOs raised the issue of the Must Carry policy. “We think that your initiative was quite timely and we are ready to participate in consultations,” he addressed the parliamentary chairman.

Maia Panjikidze, Spokesperson of the Georgian Dream political coalition, said the information should always be accessible for society, not only during the two-months of the election period. She cited the fact that political processes re-start with the new cycle from the second day of the elections. “We ensure civil society that after we come to power from October, this issue won’t be debatable,” Panjikidze stated.

Out of 79 companies, 44 have television broadcasting licences and the rest (35) have them for radio, while the number for cable TV operators is 110.

Khatia Kurashvili, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) spokesperson, told The Messenger that the GNCC would fully monitor the changes planned by the parliament. She explained that the frequency necessary for broadcasting is scarce, thus some cable operators may find it hard to include all the TV channels in their service list. Addressing all the possible technical problems, Kurashvili explained that old cells and the limited geographical coverage area may become an obstacle for some cable operators. She said that some of them have a limited number of channels demanded by the subscribers.