"Networks won’t have a right to discriminatorily decide which broadcaster to include or switch off,” says Irakli Melashvili from Coalition for Free Choice. (Photo: Mari Nikuradze.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – Media and law organizations in Georgia suggest another package of legislative amendments for the electoral environment in the country.

The bill will regulate issues like the definition of hidden political advertisement, paid and free political commercials, transparency in the use of administrative resources for promoting a political party and improvement in the vote counting procedure.

Non-governmental organizations and leaders of media units and media commentators started a campaign against legislative changes made last December. This is the second stage of that campaign, the goal of which is to improve the legislative environment for the parliamentary elections in October 2012.

Much of the criticism has been directed at changes parliament made to the law about political unions of citizens, changes which applied a number of restrictions and prohibitions to political parties and subjects, but also voters, legal persons and individuals.

Four organizations have now prepared a bill which deals with the legislative environment. In March, they achieved some results after having discussions with parliament’s judiciary committee, a compromise which parliament gave its sign of approval.

The compromise made the legislation less vague when defining a ‘related person’. This is important, because the law applied responsibility on financing a party, whether it is done by a legal person, by individuals or by persons related to political party. After the compromise, there is no longer any mention of directly or indirectly related person.

The law adopted in December 2011 granted the Chamber of Control authority to apply sanctions and restrictions on political parties, subjects, public movements or organizations without presenting any evidence for whether someone has expressed political sympathy or antipathy. The chamber doesn’t have such a right anymore. Restrictions can only be applied to persons who have declared election aims and goals and spend money to implement those goals.

The chamber is now also restricted from individually seizing the property of a person. This decision can only be made by a court.

The law also applied criminal responsibility to voters if they received presents, money or any other help from a political party. This was considered bribes and a voter who receives such a gift may risk three years in jail. This regulation was also canceled.

The amount of sanctions and fines reduced. A person won’t be restricted from entrepreneurial activity if this activity isn’t directly related to elections.

Today, campaigners brought another package of legislative changes to parliament for further review. The new changes apply to media regulation, usage of administrative changes; improvement of the vote count procedures on Election Day and transparency in what the state, regional and local administration is doing to affect the outcome.

The bill suggests to hold live broadcasting sessions from the Central Election Commission and District Election Commission (DEC) during the election campaign via the Internet.

Further, the groups suggest that before opening the election boxes at the DEC, the number of voters who participated should be calculated from the summarizing protocol.

The bill suggests applying restrictions to usage of administrative resources from June 1, 2012; which will mean that the number of people who doesn’t have a right to participate in the election campaign increases.

Legislation amendments are to be made to the Election Code, but also to the law on broadcasting and the administrative code.

Cable networks in Georgia will be obliged to carry a broadcaster which has a license for community and satellite broadcasting.

Currently, cable networks have a right to refuse to carry a channel as they wish. But now, if the bill is adopted, cable networks will be obliged to carry the signal of these broadcasters if they offer the signal for free.

Further, national broadcasters like Rustavi 2, Imedi and Public Broadcasters won’t be allowed to refuse a cable network to carry their signal, as happened recently on a cable network which carried the new opposition TV Channel 9.

The bill defines rules for the National Communications Commission to review and reacts to media-monitoring conducted by local and international organizations; also to rules to hold pre-election debates and providing information on elections.

“Media regulation issues are very important, which apply obligations for cable network to broadcast and include into their packages common and public broadcasters, also networks won’t have a right to discriminatorily decide which broadcaster to include or switch off,” Irakli Melashvili from Coalition for Free Choice says.

35 non-governmental organizations, media and media commentators are signatories to the new bill.