David Zilpimiani says his business went down the drain after he agreed to be distributor for the Ivanishvili affiliated Channel 9. (IPN.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – The owner of TV and radio distributor Stereo+ says it has lost all its clients after signing a contract with Ivanishvili affiliated Channel 9 a month ago.

Davit Zilpimiani, who started and owns Stereo+, says this and another company he runs have been paralyzed by the crisis it has been in the last month. The problems began when he signed an agreement with Channel 9 to broadcast its signal.

“The company lost all its clients, a business built during six years, which provided services to many channels, it was suspended by brute force interference and in fact, today the company doesn’t exist anymore,” he said at a press conference at Tbilisi Marriott Hotel.

Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) instructed Stereo+ to switch off Channel 9’s signal, because the company didn’t have the required license; however the founder claimed he has had such a license for six years and never had any problems like this before.

Several days ago GNCC fined Stereo+ 5 000 lari for what it has already done, which is about USD 3 000. They also demanded that Stereo+ stops broadcasting Channel 9′s signal by 14:00 on Thursday, otherwise it would be switched off altogether.

“Channel 9 would have been one of the clients among all the others and didn’t have different relations from the other companies we have contract with,” Zilpimiani added.

Channel 9 is a TV company which recently started broadcasting. It is run by associates of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire behind the opposition Georgian Dream movement. Since the beginning, the channel has faced various difficulties, like damaged equipment or finding someone to broadcast its signal.

In May, Pirveli Stereo and Stereo+ Ltd were seized following a court order. Zilpimian was fired. He believes both actions are politically motivated.

Meanwhile, Global TV which is a cable operator providing services to companies in Tbilisi and some other regions, will now be obliged to dismantle all its satellite receivers all over Georgia, Aleksandr Ronzhes, one of the owners of Global TV, said at the press conference.

The reason is a court decision in favor of a request by two pro-government TV stations, Rustavi 2 and Imedi, that Global TV had to stop transmitting these two stations.

“In order to comply, we will have to dismantle all satellites all over Georgia, which will in fact mean closing the company,” he said.

Global TV, the largest owner of which is Ivanishvili’s brother, started experiencing trouble after they decided to carry independent TV station Maestro and later Channel 9.

“Problems became severe, after it was declared in October to establish an opposition front and Global TV agreed to carry Channel 9 too. Lately, about 50 government bodies have been in contact with us,” Ronzhes said, adding that Global TV was also prohibited from participating in state tenders.

He says the most recent events put the company on the way to bankruptcy. Ronzhes owns 17 percent of the company.

“They should stimulate me as foreign investor for me to implement more foreign investments in Georgia. But the message which government sends to foreign investors in media is negative. I am IS citizen and best I value in my country is that basic human rights are protected. But what I see here it violates Georgian people’s rights. I’m concerned that government does nothing to protect the freedom of speech. I’m also concerned that government prefers to destroy the company, rather than develop and contribute to develop economy.”

Legislation in Georgia is such that nothing prevents a national TV channel from withdraw its signal from a cable network any time, and a cable company has no obligation to carry the signal of a national broadcaster if this is offered for free.

The problems Channel 9 and Maestro have been experiencing forms the backdrop to a new law proposal from the democracy campaign This Affects You Too, which was started in February this year in order to amend election legislation.

Parliament significantly changed election legislation in December, 2011, two months after Bidzina Ivanishvili stated he was to participate in the upcoming elections and remove the government from power through elections.

The campaign achieved some breakthrough after talks with lawmakers in April, and has now moved on to the topic of improving the media environment ahead of the elections.

At the top of its agenda right now is to write into law the two principles ‘must-carry’ and ‘must-offer’. ‘Must offer’ will prohibit national channels from switching off their signal from a cable operator, at least during a certain period and until past the elections. ‘Must carry’ means that if a TV station and a cable company agree on price, or the channel offers its signal for free, cable operators will be obliged to carry the signal.

The aim is to create a diverse and accessible media environment all over the country. But so far, authorities have been against introducing the two principles in Georgia. Their argument is that this will restrict private business, as it establishes some obligations for private companies.

Kakha Bekauri, general director of Channel 9, says if Global TV dismantles the satellite receivers, it will be a serious problem for Channel 9 as this is the only cable operator distributing its signal.

If the signal is switched off, Channel 9’s audience will consist of people owning satellites, because the channel also broadcasts via satellite, through the Turkish company Turkstat.

Bekauri, who also attended today’s press conference, says about 20 percent of the Georgian population owns a satellite receiver.