COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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Georgia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity

Adoption of the Laws on Broadcasting and on Telecommunications has initiated a new stage of development of mass media and relations within Georgia.

The Law on Broadcasting, adopted in 2004, was developed in association with the EU and Georgia acceded to the EU Directive "TV without Frontiers". It specifies three kinds of radio and TV companies:

  • Public: public TV is obliged to provide the balance between the genres of programmes, including cultural programmes, based on public interest.
  • Community: community broadcasting companies undertake to provide, within their coverage and in the process of broadcasting, the participation of those residents which they serve and, accordingly, the coverage of minority issues, including cultural matters, in their native language (Abkhaz, Azeri, Armenian, Ossetian and Russian). These programmes play an important role in pluralism within the mass media and address diversity within the coverage of radio and TV mass media. See also chapter 4.2.4 and chapter 4.2.7.

The estimated share of domestic television programmes produced in Georgia vs. imported products is 70 to 30. (Out of 30% imported product, the major part is manufactured in the USA, followed by Brazil, Argentina and Columbia (serials); some product is from the Russian Federation. Almost all products are dubbed by TV companies in Georgian (no exact statistical data is available, the information is given in general).

In compliance with the Laws on Telecommunications (adopted in 2004), on Broadcasting (2004) and on Independent Regulatory Commissions (2005), the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) – the independent regulatory authority – issued 92 licenses for TV and radio-broadcasting, as well as 67 licenses for cable TV and radio broadcasting by the end of 2004. None of these stations specialises in culture.

The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection promoted intercultural programmes through subsidies allocated to the TV company "MIR" (107 500 GEL in 2005). However, in 2006, the project was completed, appropriation of "MIR" was stopped and it was closed.

According to polls organised by the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC - independent regulatory authority),46% of respondents declared a desire for the creation of a specialised cultural channel.

During the period 2000-2004 Georgia underwent market liberalisation, new competitors arrived on the market, and unauthorised channels were closed.

In the telecommunications sphere in Georgia, there are 150 operators, including 8 owned by the state. The growth of revenues in the sector and advertising income is stable.

Plans to create a special TV channel "CULTURE", using the public television Channel 2, were discussed before reorganising the State TV and Radio Committee of Georgia into a public service broadcaster (The Public Service Broadcaster is a legal entity of public law, independent of the state and accountable to the public, established under Georgian legislation, on the basis of public financing, for television or radio broadcasting. The Public Service Broadcaster does not subordinate to any state authority), however, it did not come to fruition.

The Public Service Broadcaster is funded at 0.15% of GDP from the state budget. Parliament, when planning the state budget, relies on the approved GDP from the previous year, not on the projected GDP for the following year. For example, the state obligation to the Public Broadcaster in the 2007 budget was calculated according to the GDP of 2005. Because of this, the Public Broadcaster is not fully benefiting from the GDP growth, which initially was the main idea behind this scheme. The difference in this case amounts to GEL 1.5 million. The Public Broadcaster's budget in 2006 was GEL 16.5 million, with income from economic activities nearly GEL 2 million. Economic activities include income from limited advertising, rent, and sale of property. (http://www.irex.org/programs/MSI_EUR/2006/georgia.asp)

In 2004-2005, public initiatives in the area of mass media also omitted the issues of culture and the need for analytical programmes related to cultural issues. In this period there was a decrease in the already small area of culture oriented programmes; in some cases this decline was caused by closing TV companies which had special culture programmes, in other cases the culture programmes were replaced with more profitable entertainment programmes, e.g. reality shows. In general, only some channels have short programmes in art and culture.

In 2007, the TV company "Iveria" was started, under the Patriarchy of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which is oriented to religious and cultural development.

Development of Internet projects combining the spheres of culture is mainly prevented due to data processing problems.

The majority of national and local periodicals are privately owned.

Table 3:    Circulation of books, magazines and newspapers in Georgia, 2003-2009

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Circulation of books and brochures, in million copies

0.2

0.3

0.3

2.4

2.8

1.9

2.1

Annual circulation of magazines and other printed editions, in million copies

0.5

0.7

1.1

3.4

16.2

19.2

23.2

Number of published newspapers

149

122

88

209

181

221

199

Individual circulation of newspapers, in million copies

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.8

0.5

0.7

0.5

Annual circulation of newspapers, in million copies

24.9

35.4

17.9

35.9

33.3

33.2

35.1

Source:    Ilya Chavchavadze National Library under the Parliament of Georgia, Department of National Bibliography.

Notwithstanding the development of the media, and the high prestige attached to the field of journalism, there are no special training programmes for journalists in Georgia aimed at increasing their sensitivity to the culture-related issues and conflicts. Consequently, professionalism is an issue among those journalists who are engaged in cultural issues.

There are no special antitrust measures and legal bases for preventing media concentration in Georgia. This promotes the trend of monopolisation of mass media by the central authorities and ideologising of previously independent TV companies which has developed in 2006-2007. As a result of transfer and distribution of shares they felt in hands of the pro-governmental forces.

In early 2006, Rustavi 2 broadcasting company bought shares of Tbilisi-based TV station Mze (Sun). Currently, Georgian Industrial Group (GIG) owns 22% of shares in Rustavi 2 TV; 22% in Mze TV and 65% in Pirveli Stereo. All three TV stations are part of a holding, wherein majority stakes are owned by lawmaker Davit Bezhuashvili's Georgian Industrial Group (GIG). Davit Bezhuashvili is a brother of foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili. (http://www.geotimes.ge/index.php?m=home&newsid=7372) David Bezhuashvili, who has long been known as Saakashvili's sponsor, has always preferred to remain in the shadows and has never displayed any overt political ambitions. Zaza Tananashvili, Director General of Mze, confirmed the purchase of Rustavi-2 shares by Bezhuashvili. The amount of shares reportedly varies from 22% up to 50%, giving Bezhuashvili the opportunity to serve as Saakashvili's eye in the new media holding.)

Henceforth, Mze is expected to broadcast exclusively entertainment programmes, which, according to analyst Ia Antadze, will completely support the authorities' plans to "lull the public vigilance" before this autumn's local elections. This theory is partially supported by the fact that Rustavi-2 still owes the state approximately USD 5 million, and therefore has limited financial maneuverability to assume control of Mze. (http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2370675).

Mze TV had a weekly Sunday analytical-informational programme "Culture". In 2008, changes were made to Mze TV which closed down both its information programme and its weekly "Culture" programme.

The political crisis of November 2007 sharply exposed the problems related to the independent mass media. Surveys showed that the most highly rated and balanced TV Company was TV "Imedi" the main competitor of the pro-governmental TV stations. "Imedi", a part of Imedi Media Holding and its management, was transferred for one year to News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdock. This TV Company covered all burning topics of the day and in November 2007 arranged live debates with representatives of the opposition. However, on November 7, after the attack on the rally of the opposition and before declaration of the state of emergency, the state authorities occupied the TV Company building and forcibly stopped it broadcasting without any substantiating documents. In the same manner, the broadcasting of independent TV companies "Caucasia", "25th Channel" (Batumi), Radio "Imedi" were also stopped. Thereafter, the assets of the opposition TV company "Imedi" were taken over by a court decision and the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC) deprived the TV company of its license. Such actions of the government caused indignation inside the country and outside it. All democratically disposed people (regardless of political belonging) are demanding the re-opening of TV Channel "Imedi". The Ombudsman of Georgia appealed for the restoration of freedom of speech.

Although the state of emergency ended on November 16, 2007, "media freedom is still a matter of our concern", according to the defence and foreign ministers of EU member states at a meeting held in Brussels on 19-20 November 2007. The EU Board underlined the significance of creating the conditions required for the establishment of adequate democratic processes prior to the pre-term presidential elections (5 January 2008). At the beginning of the summer 2008, TV "Imedi" was back on the air, although it has yet to achieve its former rating levels.

In this context, the cultural issues are of minor importance for TV channels, nevertheless some well-known representatives of Georgian culture have increased interest in various political issues.

The amendments in the Media Law have been drafted in two variants of the bill. One variant is presented by the ruling party and this bill provides the transparency of mass media owners, restriction of norms for the owners (legal entities registered in the offshore area are prohibited from owning broadcasting media). The other variant is prepared by media-experts and journalists and will be presented by the parliamentary opposition minority. This bill covers the larger range of problems such as registration and licensing, transparency of state financing and transparency of ownership in the media field, problems of monopolisation, and the role and level of independence of the Communications Regulatory Commission etc. The amendments are to be adopted at the end of 2010.

In 2014, an important innovation in the sphere of public broadcasting TV is the project "My book" which aims to promote books and literature in Georgia. Georgian analogue of this BBC mega-project is being aired on the First Channel of Georgia's Public Broadcaster (GPB) starting in March 2014 and is produced in close cooperation with the National Library of Georgia.


Chapter published: 26-01-2016

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