TBILISI, DFWatch – Newspapers and TV not affiliated with the government in Georgia have been swept up in a major effort by authorities to restrict an opposition financier’s influence.
Civil rights groups warned in late 2011 that this could happen, and now it has. Georgia’s new party finance law is being applied far outside of party politics. TV stations and even newspapers are being made to jump through bureaucratic hurdles originally meant only for political parties.
Now the media being targeted warn that if this is followed through, they will not be able to survive, because the rules applied to them are too strict and complicated.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, a well-known but low-profile financier suddenly jumped onto the political stage in Georgia last October, and political debate has centered around bureaucratic moves by authorities that the opposition claim are meant to prevent him from supporting them in the elections this fall.
The latest move came with changes to the party finance law. Before, they applied only to political parties, but from January 1, all kinds of organizations and businesses, and even individuals, that have an intention to impact the election, are subject to the same financial restrictions as parties.
DFWatch reported previously that Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream movement fell under the watchful eye of the Chamber of Control and its party finance controller-in-chief Natia Mogeladze, after she noticed that spokespersons for Georgian Dream had expressed an intention to affect the election.
But Georgian Dream refused to sumbit their financial report as ordered to, and January 10, Mogeladze released the CoC’s own in-house report about Georgian Dream.
It details how Mr Ivanishvili has allegedly been supporting two small TV stations and several newspapers.
According to Mogeladze’s report, Ivanishvili’s movement paid 177 900 lari to TV station Kavkazia. But Kavkazia says this money is part of a three month long advertisement contract. Mogeladze’s report also says Maestro TV, also a small station mostly broadcasting in Tbilisi, received 195 600 lari.
Georgian Dream also had advertisement contracts with radio Palitra (31 400) and Radio Hereti in the Lagodekhi region (83 261). The movement had a 54 150 lari advertisement contract with Guria News newspaper in Chokhatauri. It had the contract with the newspaper Resonance (2 400 lari), it paid 297 lari to the Newspaper 24 Saati to publish the statements as advertisements.
Among all these media outlets listed in Mogeladze’s report, only one of them is affiliated with the government: 24 Saati.
The newspapers maintain that the money transfers only concern payment for advertisements, and it is incorrect to call this financial support.
But the campaign finance watchdog maintains that this is not only about payment for advertisement. It also concerns money paid for the live broadcast which Maestro and Gori-based Trialeti carried of Ivanishvili’s launch event for Georgian Dream December 11.
The declaration says that the Georgian Dream paid Trialeti 10 000 lari for the broadcast.
Legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze says the CoC did not have authority to publish information about the finances of media companies, because it encroaches on business secrets. As he sees it, the CoC seems to lack a legal basis for publishing the information, unless they are able to provide some paragraph which gives them this right.
“If there is not written in the law that it has some right, it means that they don’t have this right,” Khmaladze says.
DF Watch tried to receive this information from the Chamber of Control, but they didn’t wish to speak with us.
One of Ivanishvili’s lawyers, Alexandre Baramdze, requests the CoC’s party finance chair to clearly define what it means to have political aims — the legal basis for applying finance restrictions.
Georgian Dream does not have political aims, Baramidze claimed at a press conference at Tbilisi Marriott today, and besides, Georgian Dream did send the CoC the financial statement, covering the period from December 30 to January 9.
They explain that the changes to the law about political unions of the citizens were enforced from December 30 and requesting older information before enforcing this law would be granting retroactive power to this law.
“We need to know from Natia Mogeladze on the basis of which normative act she defined that the Chamber of Control is authorized to itself define who has and who doesn’t have political goals and aims.”
The lawyers also demand to receive within three days information about who has decided that Georgian Dream is a legal person, to which the legislation about the political parties should apply.