TBILISI, DFWatch – Ten months before Georgia is to hold parliamentary elections, there is still distrust towards how the national TV networks will do their job.
The government announced Thursday that it wants to change the way media monitoring is done.
Chariman of parliament’s legal affairs committee Pavle Kublashvili says there is a discussion to shift responsibility from the Central Election Commission (CEC) to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission.
But this did not assuage concerns among the opposition. The Christian Democrat party is opposed to both CEC and the communications commission doing the monitoring. Levan Vepkhvadze believes that the monitoring will have more transparency and credibility if it is done by an independent agency working under international guidance.
The media in Georgia has previously been criticised for being slanted in favor of authorities, while the government outwardly claims that the national networks are fair and neutral.
As a measure to address concerns, there is done a monitoring of the television channels’ coverage of politics in the period before an election.
In the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, this monitoring was the responsibility of the Central Election Committee (CEC), while the actual monitoring was done by a company called Primetime, which had their offices at Georgian Public Broadcaster in Tbilisi.
In case of violations, it has been the telecommunications commission’s responsibility to impose sanctions.
This arrangement proved unable to prevent distrust during the elections in 2008. One of the TV stations, Imedi, which had been forced to close after police raided their studios the previous year, did not function normally before neither election. Among the other, Rustavi 2 refused to interview opposition politicians ahead of the parliamentary election, citing concerns of attacks on journalists, while Mze adopted a similar approach.
Georgian Public Broadcaster let opposition politicians speak to voters, but its coverage also was met with distrust.
Media monitoring only covers the period before the election. On election day itself, Georgian national networks have committed gross violations of ethical standards in the last two elections.
In the local elections in 2010, President Saakashvili gave a live TV interview from within a voting precinct, in which he said that if voters did not vote for his party, it would lead to the country’s ruin.
On election day in the parliamentary elections May 2008, Rustavi 2 participated in a staged shooting incident in the west of Georgia. President Saakashvili claimed the shooting had been done by Abkhaz forces, while an independent investigation the same day indicated that it had been carried out by Georgian servicemen. Rustavi 2 had a camera at the scene of shooting before it started and captured close-up footage of the victims while they were being shot at, which was broadcast while voting booths were still open.