This article by Tata Shoshiashvili was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement.
On November 25, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) issued a statement announcing fines for several television channels including Mtavari, Imedi, Studio Maestro and Kartuli Arkhi.
GNCC fined Mtavari Arkhi TV, Georgia’s largest opposition-leaning channel, GEL 112,000 (USD 35,000), which is 1 percent of its annual revenue, for airing three “political commercials.” Imedi, which leans pro-government, and Studio Maestrowere each fined GEL 2,500 (USD 800) while Kartuli Arkhiwas given a warning.
#Georgia: the gov.ment critical @MtavariChannel fined $36,000 for airing clips supportive of @SaakashviliM deemed ‘political propaganda outside of the allocated period’. @RSF_inter denounces a tool for censorship and a crippling sum & calls the regulator to revise its decision. pic.twitter.com/6xDJcynYTO
— RSF (@RSF_inter) November 26, 2021
Nika Gvaramia, the head of Mtavari, condemned the fine, describing it 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. One of the videos featured photos of senior officials of the Georgian Penitentiary Service and justices involved in the arrest of Georgia's former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Some of the photos were captioned #FreedomforMisha. According to Civil.ge, the voiceover narrating the video, said, this person was “killing [Saakashvili],”after each photo. The video ends with the narrator calling for the “release [of] Mikheil Saakashvili.”
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. Each statement was then accompanied by a similar voice-over narration as in the first video.
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.
Activists with the Shame Movement staged protests outside the GNCC following the announcement of the decision:
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 GEL 58,000 (USD18,000) 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.”