TBILISI, DFWatch–Transparency International Georgia (TIG) says the head of the commission that oversees and regulates the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors is not tending to his duties.
TIG now calls on parliament to investigate if Irakli Chikovani has violated his responsibilities or was engaged in any misconduct as Chairman of the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC).
Chikovani is one of the highest paid officials in the country, with a monthly remuneration of GEL 18,000 (USD 11000) per month. In addition, he had an income of GEL 1,413,922 (USD 850 000) from private sector activities in 2011. Chikovani is a businessman too, and has shares in several large companies, one of them being Magi Style Media.
Magi Style Media offers a range of services related to advertising, including the placement of TV ads, and the company was cooperating with Rustavi 2 and the TV company Imedi. Giorgi Gegeshidze, former head of Rustavi 2, is a partner of Irakli Chikovani in this business.
In April, MagtiSat was fined GEL 90,000 by the regulator for misleading advertising, after it claimed certain sport events were available “only for MagtiSat viewers”, while in fact also customers of the pay-TV provider GMG were able to see these programs. In September, a court annulled Magti’s fine, company executives told TI Georgia. In 2011, Rustavi 2 and Imedi, on the other hand, were only fined GEL 2,500 each for over several months airing more advertising than they were legally allowed to.
A secretly recorded conversation between Irakli Chikovani and a representative of Caucasus Online (CO) was aired by Maestro TV on November 6, once more raising questions about a conflict of interest.
In the recording, Chikovani says that competitors are aware of the fact that CO had been transmitting channels without being able to present the necessary contracts permitting them to do so, and the Commission cannot help them anymore. Chikovani mentioned that he would be willing to register contracts between CO and TV stations with an older date and that he would delay the issuing of information related to these contracts, but that he would not violate legal deadlines. Chikovani appears to have said that he is no longer able to cover up the transmission of TV channels for which the Internet and cable TV provider had failed to produce license agreements.
On November 7, Chikovani confirmed that the recorded voice was his, but added that he did not violate law and has no conflicts of interest. He also stated that GNCC sends similar texts to every operator to help them avoid sanctions and the information about contract dates is open to every person so everyone can check it.
“Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the Levan Mikeladze Fund were monitoring my activities during a year and a half, and the only violation that they found was that I had a conflict of interest,” Chikovani said as answer to the question about patronizing CO during 10 months. He added that the company was fined with quite a significant amount of money for that period.
Chikovani has not been at work since November 2012. For the first two months of his absence, he was officially on vacation. It appears that he has failed to attend GNCC meetings without being excused for more than two months, which according to the law would constitute a violation of his professional duties.
According to the GNCC, Chikovani resigned on April 12, 2013.
“We believe that the controversy around Chikovani and his long absence from work has been undermining the operations and the reputation of the GNCC and Parliament should move to finally end this case,” TI writes in its statement.