TBILISI, DFWatch – Media organizations, cable operator companies, non-government organizations and the National Communication Commission (GNCC ) sat down together on Monday to discuss details and issues about the implementation of the must-carry and must-offer principles.

Must-carry and must-offer oblige cable operator networks to carry the signals of all broadcasters in their networks for 60 days before the elections, while broadcasters aren’t allowed to switch off their signals from these networks.

During the meeting, the representative from GNCC was bombarded with questions from other guests at the meeting, which was held at Tbilisi Marriott Hotel on Monday, on initiative of the Coalition on Media Advocacy.

Kakhi Kurahsivli, a lawyer representing GNCC, spoke about the problems which cable operator companies have indicated regarding the implementation of the must-carry principle. GNCC earlier held a meeting with representatives of these companies to air whatever issues they may have with implementing their new obligations.

One of the main problems, he underlined, is that it is unclear according to the new law, who has to pay expenses when a cable operator includes a broadcaster in the network and which is related to a certain amount of money; also some cable network companies claim they may have to change their current packages, which they suggest to their customers in order to implement new obligations – they say in some cases they will have to switch off some other channels and include Georgian channels instead.

Kurahsivli says the responsibility of getting the channels live is unclear. Do broadcasters have an obligation to contact cable companies to ask them to transfer their signal, or do the cable companies have to ask the broadcasters?

But representatives from the Coalition on Media Advocacy responded that a broadcasters’ appeal is not necessary for a cable operator to carry their signal if they have a proper license, because the law defines that cable operator companies should make provisions for carrying all broadcasters having a common broadcasting license in their networks for the defined period.

“This is an additional barrier for Channel 9, so that certain cable operator companies won’t include Channel 9 in their networks,” Kakha Bekauri, director of Channel 9 said.

He says if a TV channel sends a request — by letter mail — to a cable operator in the region, and the letter isn’t delivered, or for some other reasons the request doesn’t make it to the operator company, then they may have a reason not to include the broadcaster in their network.

“There are Maestro, Kavkazia and Channel 9, which are being denied onto large cable operator companies. But why does this happen? Aren’t they good enough? Are those channels uninteresting? Be clear to us Mr. Kakhi,” Lasha Tughushi, editor of daily newspaper Rezonansi responded to a number of arguments and issues presented by the GNCC representatives.

Kurashvili said if a cable operator received a letter or request about switching in the network but didn’t switch them, this will become reason to suspend the license of this operator company for one year.

He says there are registered more than 100 cable operator companies, but only 70 are functioning today.

The director of the opposition affiliated cable network Global TV spoke about another problem: While the must-carry principle was prepared, no-one was interested in whether these companies have the technical capacity to carry the new channels in their networks, because in some cases it needs a large amount of money, which they may not be able to pay.

Another topic which parties discussed at the meeting was the implementation of media monitoring by GNCC, which according to the new election legislation was obliged to conduct the monitoring before elections.

Still Kakhi Kurashvili spoke about various misunderstandings in terms of law. Media is large term and may unite all kinds of media outlets under the term including print and online media.

“So what should we monitor all kinds of media? Should we monitor all websites?”

The parties agreed to work to clarify such issues. Print media and online media are almost unregulated in Georgia, so this may pose new problems. Tamar Kordzaia, executive director of Journalists Ethics Charter suggested to use the definitions of the law on broadcasting, which apply certain obligations to only online television, but for the other cases it needs more work to define further steps.

The GNCC representative suggested that the commission is not conducting monitoring at all.

“You already know what our reputation is. This monitoring is always causing disputes and dissatisfactions no matter how objective it is and with our reputation it will be in vain.”

He suggested to use monitoring result of respected international organizations, monitoring missions and local NGOs, and in case there are violations, the GNCC could recheck them and then apply sanctions, rather than spend resources to conduct additional monitoring.

At the end of the discussion, parties agreed that NGOs will inform GNCC about their final views on conducting the monitoring, while commission promised to fulfill them.