The pre-election campaign is taking place in “a competitive media-atmosphere and coverage is balanced and diverse,” the Central Election Commission (CEC) said after it had unveiled its second media monitoring results. The conclusion differed from that of the OSCE election observation mission, which claimed in its interim report that the media lacked balance in its coverage.
The CEC released on December 29 the results of its second media monitoring. Conducted by a contractor, Primetime, it covered the period between December 16 and December 22 and looked at four national stations – Rustavi 2, Imedi, Mze and the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) – and one Tbilisi-based station - Kavkasia TV. It involved both qualitative and quantitative distribution of airtime between the presidential candidates, including analysis of the distribution of free and paid political advertisement airtime. Imedi TV suspended broadcasts on December 26.
Mikheil Saakashvili still leads in terms of TV ads with a total of slightly over seven hours of paid airtime and three hours of free airtime. In the pervious monitoring period (December 10-15) Saakashvili had a total of five hours and 40 minutes of paid airtime.
Other presidential candidates - Levan Gachechiladze, Davit Gamkrelidze and Shalva Natelashvili - mostly rely on free TV ads legally allotted for ‘qualified presidential candidates’ – those nominated by political parties that won at least 4% of the vote in the last parliamentary elections and at least 3% of the vote in the last local elections.
Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party, follows Saakashvili with five hours of ads. He has had only ten minutes of paid airtime. Gachechiladze’s next, with four hours and 36 minutes of free ads, and Natelashvili comes in last, with three hours and 40 minutes of free ads. Patarkatsishvili is not entitles to free ads and has had 18 minutes of paid airtime.
In quantitative terms, the survey showed that the television stations dedicated the biggest share of airtime to Saakashvili, totally three hours.
Surprisingly, Irina Sarishvili, an underdog presidential candidate, follows with two hours and 15 minutes. The CEC explained that Sarishvili’s appearance on two different political talk shows during the monitoring period resulted in her high standing. The CEC-commissioned media monitoring involves not only TV news programs, but also TV political talk shows.
Gachechiladze and Gamkrelidze follow with an hour and 36 minutes and an hour and 14 minutes, respectively; with Natelashvili (an hour and 14 minutes), Giorgi Maisashvili (42 minutes) and Patarkatsishvili (35 minutes) closing the chart. Natelashvili was the most frequently mentioned candidate during the previous monitoring period (December 10-15) with about two hours, followed by Saakashvili.
Rustavi 2 and Mze TV stations (both part of one media holding company) featured Saakashvili more frequently than any other television station. Imedi TV dedicated most of its airtime to Gachechiladze and Natelashvili, followed by Maisashvili, Saakashvili, Patarkatsishvili and Gamkrelidze. The GPB dedicated most of its airtime to Saakashvili, followed by Gamkrelidze and Gachechiladze.
In qualitative terms, according to the survey, Saakashvili was most frequently mentioned in a negative tone, followed by Patarkatsishvili. Saakashvili, however, was also most frequent mentioning in a positive tone.
Meanwhile, in its interim report, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission said that a lack of balance in the primetime news coverage of presidential candidates on most monitored TV stations was observed.
The report said that between December 7 and December 20, the GPB devoted 41% of its political and election news coverage to Saakashvili. 99% of this coverage was positive or neutral in tone, according to the interim report.
The next most covered candidate by the GPB, Gamkrelidze, received 17% of the coverage, followed by Gachechiladze with 16% and Natelashvili with 13%. The tone of coverage of these candidates was also mostly positive and neutral, according to the report.
The two nationwide private TV stations, Rustavi 2 and Mze, have adopted a similar approach to the GPB’s, devoting “the bulk of their news coverage to Mr. Saakashvili.”
Imedi TV, owned by Patarkatsishvili, dedicated the highest share of its prime time political and election-related news coverage to Saakashvili - 34%.
“While some 45% of Mr. Saakashvili’s coverage [by Imedi TV] was positive in tone, as much as 15% was negative,” the report reads.
The next most covered candidates by Imedi TV were Gachechiladze and Patarkatsishvili with 18% and 17%, respectively. “The tone of their coverage was mainly neutral or positive,” the report stated.