Arrested Global TV Property – Pressure on Free Media Business
28 June, 2012
Arrested Global TV Property – Pressure on Free Media Business

Global Contact Consulting LLC, a telecommunications cable operator company largely known as Global TV, faces moral as well as financial losses accruing to several millions as a result of improper property seizure on June 21, 2012. While Global TV files a lawsuit to revoke the writ on property arrest, the non-governmental watchdogs assess the property arrest as a political pressure on free media and hail Georgian prosecutors’ Office to apply to proportionate manners respective to all media companies. 

 

In the afternoon

of June 21, authorities started to seize satellite dishes from a warehouse Elite Burji where Global TV, the television provider in which brother of Georgian political tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili [leader of oppositionist political party Georgian Dream] owns 66.8%, appears to store as many as 70 thousand satellite dishes. The confiscation was approved by a court order stating that there was reason to believe that Global TV would use the dishes to bribe voters in favor of Georgian Dream.

According to the Prosecutor’s office website this reason was elaborated as following:  the Prosecutor’s office launched a criminal investigation against Global TV and Bidzina Ivanishvili for it was distributing satellite dishes “free of charge” in various regions of Georgia and despite the warning of Control Chamber of Georgia (CCG) the company has continued its practice. Therefore Prosecutor’s office requested Tbilisi City Court to seal satellite antennas in order “to prevent further commission of the crime”. The Court did approve the claim however nobody informed Global TV of the planned property arrest and the company learned it from media.

But this is just one point in the long rap sheet based on which non-governmental lawyers find the questioned property arrest illegal as it is implemented through breakage of procedures of the criminal procedural code.

Kakha Kozhoridze, a lawyer of Georgia Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), involved in the case from the very beginning, said the writ on property arrest did not include the signature of the judge initially that is essential to make the document legal; only second version of the writ exposed a colorless, scarcely visible signature that makes lawyers presume the paper was signed beforehand.

One of the key infringements is the property arrest can be applied only against the charged person whose crime is already recognized by court.

“Since the case is based on alleged bribing of voters and there is no person who committed the action there is no charged one in fact,” Andria Nadiradze, a legal advisor of Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) explained to Georgian Journal. “Moreover, property arrest is envisaged by law for especially severe offences sentening from 10 year to life imprisonment, while vote bribing falls in less severe offences sentencing the culprit for 3 years and property arrest cannot be applied for that. Considering the abovementioned facts, the ruling of the Tbilisi City Court on the seizure of broadcasting equipment of Global TVwas inconsistent with the legislation in force.”

Kozhoridze goes even further. According to him, the questioned property arrest restricted private property of the warehouse Elite Burji too for it was implemented within its territory with no legal writ on it.

This property arrest case is a follow up to the court decision that fined Ivanishvili by GEL 150 million [that was cut down to roughly GEL 74 million based on the Court of Appeals decision later] for vote bribing. CCG appealed the court by the claim that Ivanishvili allegedly has been bribing voters through his companies. The claim included several implications and installation of satellite dishes and receivers through preferential package in Georgian regions by Global TV that is the single cable operator in Georgia broadcasting the recently founded 9th TV Channel owned by Ivanishvili’s spouse, was in the package.

According to Zurab Bazladze, Marketing Director of Global TV, the company is a victim of political game that hampered the company’s development in regions now forestalled by competitors due to the property arrest.

The company offered installation of dishes based on 10-year payment in installments. It fixed GEL 4 as a monthly payment however exempted clients from the first year payment that CCG found non-commercial and aimed on vote-sweeping for Ivanishvili. However Global TV was not summoned even as a witness on the process. But after the court CCG warned Global TV to run business based on market prices. The Court of Appeals expertised the questioned business-plan and the experts company recommended revising of the business-plan: the lease-contract term was cut from 10 to 6 years and the monthly payment increased from GEL 4 to GEL 5.5. Economic analysts assure it was none of the CCG business to interfere in the private company’s business plan even if it is commercially non-profitable as far as CCG is responsible for the state-budget-based organizations activity alone. Global TV appeased to the recommendations but it could not escape the property seizure throughout the country that exposed Global TV to both financial and marketing losses.

“This was a business project to us, but situation developed in political facet. Political parties started making comments that irritated government and we turned out a victim of misunderstanding,” Bazladze said in the interview with Georgian Journal. “Our loss is much bigger than just of financial character that we faced by taking a GEL 5-6 million worth credit for financing the project that we cannot implement at the moment.  Other competitor companies are taking advantage now that we cannot go ahead with antennae installation at the moment, and enhance their business thanks to the business idea we dictated to the market in fact that is of crucial importance to us.”

Besides, it is restriction of information, Bazladze believes for other companies install antennas much slower than Global TV planned: 20 thousands instead of planned 100 thousand tentatively. Non-governmental watchdogs also think the Global TV property arrest is a pressure on free media that is more important in the pre-election period for Parliamentary elections scheduled this October.

GYLA as well as TI Georgia appeal to the Georgian Prosecutor’s office to ensure that all actions that affect media companies are taken in a transparent and proportionate manner.

“Any sanctions should be based on clear evidence and conducted in a way that does not limit freedom of the media. The Global TV property is arrested against the law,” Nina Khatiskatsi, a program manager at TI Georgia, said to GJ. “There should be a balance. There are many projects like pensions increase, students employment as well as free outside internet service throughout Tbilisi initiated by City Hall recently, the project that is implemented by private company in fact but it is associated with the City Hall name. All these also contain pre-election campaign context. There is no law to prohibit this directly but such cases should also be investigated.”

According to Kozhoridze, all restrictions on the freedom of expression protected by constitution must be based on law, especially in the pre-election period when people need all kind of information even contradicting each other and the Global TV antennas were supposed to insure this variety for it offered both so called oppositionist TV channels like Maestro or Kavkasia along with all national channels.

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