TBILISI, DFWatch – The chair of Georgia’s media regulatory commission keeps back from interfering when TV stations break the advertising rules. His inaction as a watchdog leader is to his own personal benefit.

The chair, Irakli Chikovani, has a 35% share in Magi Style Media Ltd, which sells TV airtime to advertisers. Therefore, the chairman’s private income depends on advertising rates and the amount of advertising in the broadcast schedule, according to a new survey by two Georgian organizations.

The group found that Mr Chikovani has stayed passive when he should have imposed sanctions on the TV channels for exceeding law imposed time limits for ads, and that this he stands to benefit from this financially.

This amounts to a conflict of interest, and is just one of several serious problems researchers from Young Georgian Lawyers Association (GYLA) and Levan Mikeladze Foundation found while monitoring the commission’s work.

The monitoring took place from July to September 2011 with financial support from Open Society Georgia Foundation, and results were presented at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel October 18.

Levan Dolidze, chairman of Levan Mikeladze Foundation, explains that the monitoring group studied all the legal acts on TV media issues adopted by commission within the report period and analyzed statistics of all the commission’s decisions for a year, from August 2010 to September 2011.

The result they got were cause for concern. There were discovered violations of consumer rights’ protection as well as secrecy in some of the contracts. But the most alarming discovery was the conflict of interest, according to Dolidze.

The monitoring brought out the fact that the National Communication Commission chairman, Irakli Chikovani, holds a 35% share of Magi Style Media Ltd, which allocates advertising time for television broadcasters.

The monitoring group pointed out that this makes the private income of Irakli Chikovani dependent on TV advertising rates and on how much of the advertising time in TV broadcasters’ schedule is allocated by the company he is co-owner of.

The Regulatory Commission also has an obligation to reveal violations of the advertising limit by TV broadcasters and impose sanctions.

According to the monitoring report this does not happen. Due to his position, Irakli Chikovani has the opportunity to refrain from acting when TV companies exceed the the law-defined time limit for advertising, thereby improving or defending his financial interests.

As a response to this Kakha Kurashvili, a lawyer at the regulatory commission, claimed that it’s not within the commission’s authority to control companies’ advertising activities. He regards the monitoring report as a ‘very biased assessment of free interpretation of legal norms.’

But experts and non-governmental organizations don’t share his view. They regards it as a real problem, because the media being impartial is important for the development of a democratic society. When such violations exist within the media regulatory commission, it does not give an opportunity for the development of democracy.

“For our fund it is important that our partners worked for improvement of the media environment. This is one of our priorities, and this project is focused exactly on media improvement,” Keti Khutsishvili, director of Open Society Georgia Foundation explains.

“There are a lot of interesting findings in the report, and of course recommendations will be developed for the future. I think the most interesting issue is about conflict of interest, because the business interests of the commission members contradict their commission activities, and this issue had not been regulated yet. It is very important to work in this direction,” she said.


(Photograph: Miguel Pires da Rosa.)