The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) has fined several TV stations for airing ‘political’ content outside of an electoral campaign period. Some have criticised the fines as disproportionate towards opposition-leaning channels.
On Thursday, the National Communications Communication issued a statement announcing fines on several television channels including Mtavari, Imedi, Studio Maestro and Kartuli Arkhi.
GNCC fined Mtavari, Georgia’s largest opposition-leaning channel, ₾112,000 ($35,000), 1% of its annual revenue, for airing three ‘political commercials’. Imedi, which leans pro-government, and Studio Maestro were each fined ₾2,500 ($800) while Kartuli Arkhi was given a warning.
Nika Gvaramia, the head of Mtavari condemned the fine against Mtavari as ‘censorship’ and said that the channel has no plans to pay the fine and will appeal it in court.
According to the GNCC, Mtavari was fined for airing three video clips between 17 and 18 November.
The first featured a photo of now arrested Georgian ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili with the caption #FreedomforMisha, and then photos of senior officials of the Georgian Penitentiary Service and judges who had contact with Saakashvili after his arrest. After each photo the word ‘kills’ can be seen onscreen and at the end of the clip, the phrase ‘release Mikheil Saakashvili’ can be heard.
The second clip contains excerpts from statements made by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, leaders of the Georgian Dream party, and party MPs about Saakashvili's detention and hunger strike, and at the end of each statement and at the end of the video ‘release Mikheil Saakashvili’ can also be heard.
The third clip, created by the Shame Movement, an opposition liberal activist group, featured photographs of the leaders of Georgian Dream and the party symbol morphing into the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a 2012 amendment to the GNCC regulations, broadcasters are ‘obliged not to allow pre-election (political) advertising and pre-election agitation at any time other than the time interval allocated for this purpose’.
Mtavari was also fined ₾58,000 ($18,000) for the same alleged violation.
Studio Maestro, Kartuli Arkhi, and Imedi were fined for failing to broadcast political debates during the pre-election campaign for the 2021 municipal elections.
Speaking to OC Media, Natia Kapanadze, coordinator for the Coalition for Media Advocacy, a local media watchdog, said that the GNCC has shown a tendency to levy much heavier fines on opposition-leaning media.
‘[Thursday’s] decisions make it clear that the Commission treats broadcasters differently and, unfortunately, this different treatment is due to different editorial policies’, she said.
She added that by interpreting the clips aired by Mtavari as part of an electoral campaign, the Communications Commission may endanger ‘the freedom of civil activism’ and may entail a ‘restriction of editorial independence’.