Non-Liberal Business Model for Fair Elections’ Sake
05 July, 2012
Non-Liberal Business Model for Fair Elections’ Sake

 

To remove information barriers to electorate for the upcoming parliamentary elections, the administration approved Must Carry/Must Offer principles for a temporary use that poses commercial loss risks but the project initiators believe the fair elections idea is worth the risks. Besides, the new principle is supposed to increase competition and be commercially profitable in a long-term prospect.

After a long-time resistance, the legislative body approved the amendment to the Law on Elections Code initiated by the civil society movement ‘It

Concerns You Too’ [including public activists and non-governmental watchdogs] on June 29, 2012 It  stipulates adoption of Must Carry and Must Offer principles in Georgian reality during two months of pre-election period; namely form the date of the election announcement to the election day and not longer.
Initiators of the idea believe the must carry/offer activation period should be much longer, covering the entire election cycle, including the pre-election, election, and post-election periods so as to insure full and impartial information coverage to the voters. Moreover, they think the Must Carry/Offer principle should become as long-term as in the international practice exercising this rule starting early 60s of the past century in the US.
The Must Carry in Georgia requires cable TV providers to show all licensed TV channels and satellite broadcasts. On the other hand, Must Offer obliges TV stations to make their signal available to any willing network operator (including cable companies and satellite TV operators).
These principles are supposed to ensure that TV stations cannot misuse their market power and discriminate against selected companies [like Rustavi TV and Imedi TV imputed with the ruling party used to withhold their signals to so called oppositionist cable operators], and on the other hand prevent cable operators to ignore allegedly oppositionist TV channels in their packages.
According to Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC), about 80 cable providers operate throughout Georgia at the moment covering about  223 736 subscribers 81% of which comes on the capital and only 18% [42 455] in regions. And this 18% has limited access to so called opposition Maestro and the 9th Channel [which do not acknowledge the ruling power’s censorship], thus lacking the alternative source of information. 
“None of the regional cable operators offer Maestro or the 9th Channels to their customers, which makes alternative information unavailable to voters in regions,” Magda Popiashvili, a spokesperson for the movement ‘It Concerns You Too’, said in the interview with Georgian Journal.
This reason triggered civil society activists to push forward the Must Carry and Must Offer principles starting this past spring into the parliament that has been resisting the change claiming it was not on a par with liberal economy concept.
However due to forceful pressure of civil society majority MPs yielded but approved the questioned principles active just for 60 days under the excuse to spare business from the state interference. 
As a matter of fact to pursue with the Must Carry principle cable operator face financial puzzle: they may face either unforeseen expenses to expand their transit capacity or remove some other channel from the already adjusted consumer package to insure the admission of the obligatory channels that can lead to certain commercial losses as far as they have contracted the now active channels.
“This seems more likely to regional cable operators because most of them have just 15-20 channels in the package and to add new channels they need extra finances to expand their technical capacity that seems not reasonable for the obligatory channel transit lasts just for two months, or remove some channel from the package and put the new required ones that also may be commercially non-profitable,” Khatia Kurashvili, a GNCC spokesperson explained to GJ.  
Economic experts and the initiators of the amendment agree that cable operators may face some commercial losses in this way or other but this discomfort can be removed if the Must Carry becomes long-term [that makes investing in capacity expansion reasonable] and regulated by communication law. Besides this is a compulsory measure to discharge the politicized media business and make it competitive climate healthier and free of any kinds of political pressure.
That’s ridiculous and weak argument when they talks of interference in business because authorities them selves already interfere in the business when they presses cable operators not to transit certain channels, cable operators covertly complain of this. They forced cable operators  [during previous elections ] to offer free advertising for political parties and made them bankrupt  while elections is the most favorable period for regional operators to sell their advertising time that have miserable amount of advertisings at other time,” Popiashvili said. “Cable operators themselves are interested to include more channels to enhance number of subscribers and enjoy profits.” Must carry/offer principle is not a standard to all countries. Each country uses this principle to cure its special affliction even at the expense of discomforting business, Eka Gigauri of International Transparency Georgia, explains.
“It was adopted in the US and EU long time ago and they find this kind of “business interference” worth for social interest point of view for it serves minority and socially vulnerable people’s interests there. Our affliction is politicized media space and we try to discharge this through Must Carry,” she elaborated. Economic experts think the more diversified packages the cable operators will offer, the bigger profit they will enjoy  because the researches show there is a demand for the now “non grata” channels. Besides, this two-month period during which all channels will be put in one package may show which channel is really in demand, thus filtering the market competition.  
“If there was a balance in media, which would provide the space, free of authority pressure that dictates which channel to offer, there would be no need for such non-liberal remedy,” Davit Narmania, Executive Director of the Caucasian Institute for Economic and Social Research said.

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