Three TV channels have been penalised for running an advertisement critical of Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream. TV Pirveli and Formula have been issued written warnings, while Mtavari Arkhi has been fined 1% of its annual income.
Georgian Dream launched legal action against the three channels for running an advertisement critical of the ruling party in the run-up to the pro-European protests that took place in June.
The ruling party’s move to fine the channels was made public earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) announced its decision that the three media outlets would be punished for airing advertisements containing political content during the non-election period.
Formula and TV Pirveli received warnings, as they had committed no other violations over the preceding year. But the pro-opposition channel Mtavari was fined 1% of its annual revenue, amounting to ₾119,000 ($42,000). According to the GNCC, Mtavari has committed similar violations five times since 2019, including one other occasion in the past year.
Mtavari Arkhi has reported being in a state of financial crisis for over a year.
On top of this, in May, Mtavari’s director, Nika Gvaramia, was imprisoned on charges of abuse of power and embezzling property. The sentence was condemned by civil society groups and a number of Western diplomats as being politically motivated.
This is not the first time that this approach has been used by Georgian Dream. In November 2021, three channels were fined for airing political content outside of an electoral campaign, with Mtavari again receiving the heaviest fine of 1% of its annual revenue.
What is the subject of the dispute?
The video in question was produced and taken out by the Home to Europe movement, a coalition of several civil society groups aimed at pursuing EU membership for Georgia.
The advertisement was aired in the days prior to the EU’s decision on Georgia’s candidate status and encouraged Georgians to join the pro-European rallies that took place on June 23—24.
In the video, which runs just over a minute and a half, members and supporters of the Georgian Dream party are seen discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and criticising an EU resolution criticial of the party.
Senior figures from Georgian Dream including Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, general secretary, Kakha Kaladze, party chair Irakli Kobakhidze, and the party’s parliamentary leader, Gia Volski are heard stating that the EU resolution was ‘shameful’ and ‘worthless’, that the European Parliament produces ‘fake news’, and speaking dismissively about Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine’s potential EU candidate status.
In the complaint sent to the GNCC, Georgian Dream claimed that the content of the video ‘aims to prevent [Georgian Dream’s] success in future elections’.
When the case was made public, a lawyer for Mtavari Arkhi, Tamta Muradashvili, stated that the complaint filed by the ruling party had no basis and was absurd.
The GNCC disagreed. It concluded that one of the aims of the video was to present the ruling party ‘in a negative context’, and so ‘create a negative opinion towards the political party and its members and prevent their election’.
‘We are not going to pay this fine’
When news of the complaint emerged, representatives of the channels expressed scepticism about the motives behind the timing of the complaint and claimed it had no legal basis.
Following Tuesday’s decision, Giorgi Gabunia, acting director of Mtavari, said the company would not pay the fine and claimed that he knew the government ‘wouldn’t miss the opportunity’ to add further financial pressure to an organisation already in financial crisis.
‘Once again, we were fined for a video supporting Europe, which does not surprise me, of course’, Gabunia said. ‘We also received a direct threat that if we continue like this and one more pro-European clip reaches our airwaves, our license may be revoked… That’s no problem, we’re not going to pay this fine. We will appeal’.
After the verdict was released, the Georgian Democratic Initiative (GDI), a pro-democracy group, responded to the decision and stated that it ‘contradicts the basic principles of democracy’.
The Georgian Media Advocacy Coalition released a statement saying it considered the decision unfounded and that it would worsen Georgia’s media environment.
‘Georgian Dream does not hide that its goal is to limit the spread of negative messages about the party in society, which is in direct contradiction to the basic principles of democracy’, the statement read.
‘The decision against three critical broadcasters […] is political and is not based on legal grounds’, the coalition wrote.