An umbrella group campaigning on election-related issues has tabled package of legislative amendments, which, the group says, will help improve electoral environment ahead of the October parliamentary elections.
The group, This Affects You Too, uniting election watchdog and legal advocacy organizations, as well as several media outlets, was first formed in February to press for amending a controversial law on political parties and their funding. Many of the group’s proposals have eventually been reflected in the amendments to this law, which is currently undergoing approval process in the Parliament.
This time the group has broadened scope of targeted issues by submitting to the Parliament on May 7 draft of amendments to the election code and eight other laws.
Among the proposals are tightening provisions of election code, which regulate use of administrative resources; amending law on broadcasting to prevent arbitrary treatment of TV channels by cable networks and banning hidden political ads by media sources.
In the package of legislative amendments, sent to the Parliament on May 7, the group calls for imposing restriction on use of administrative resources from June 1 of a year in which elections are held. Currently restrictions are set from the day when the date of election is announced.
The group also calls for broadening list of those officials who are banned from taking part in the election campaign. According to the proposed amendments, deputy ministers, provincial governors and heads of local municipalities (Gamgebeli) should also be enlisted among those officials who have no right of campaigning in favor of any political party.
According to the proposed legislative amendments, campaigning should be banned during the events which are funded from the state budget. The proposal also calls to ban the authorities to undertake any additional spending, for example for new social and welfare programs, from June 1. Such a restriction now exists, but it only takes effect from the day when the date of election is announced. The proposed draft amendment says that in case of violation of this rule it should be the state audit agency, Chamber of Control, which should intervene and stop such spending.
The package of proposed legislative amendments also calls for banning “hidden advertising” and imposing fines for use of subliminal messages in media reporting. According to the proposal, which aims at prohibiting election propaganda disguised as editorial content, media outlets will be banned to feature election campaign materials or slogans and symbols of a party or a candidate in their news reporting of an event, which is not directly related to campaigning coverage.
In case of violation of this rule for the first time, according to the proposal, a media outlet should be warned, but in case of repeated violation it will be fined with GEL 500 and with GEL 1,500 for third time violation. According to the draft amendments the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) should be in charge to monitor observance of this provision by the media outlets.
The proposal also offers to make obligatory for cable operators to transmit Georgian channels. It will also be mandatory for broadcasters to allow cable networks to carry their transmission, according to the proposed draft amendment to the law on broadcasting. This proposal, according to the authors, will secure media plurality on the one hand and protection of consumers’ rights on the other hand.
Currently Maestro TV is not available in packages offered by one of the largest cable networks, Silk TV, which Maestro TV says is a politically-motivated decision on the part of Silk TV, which is part of Silknet communications company, owned by Silk Road Group, Georgian conglomerate with business interests also in transportation, banking and property development.
Newly launched TV station, Channel 9, owned by Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, is not available for most of the viewers because it is now only carried by one cable operator, Global TV, which is co-owned by Ivanishvili’s brother. Global TV itself cannot carry several TV channels, including two largest and most watched nationwide broadcasters – Imedi TV and Rustavi 2 TV, after they requested the Global TV to suspend their transmission, citing commercial reasons. Global TV, however, said it was done deliberately to encourage its subscribers to switch to other cable operators and to discourage potential new clients from subscribing with Global TV with an eventual goal to limit number of households with access to Channel 9’s broadcasts, which is also available via satellite and internet.
In other proposals the group also offers live streaming of sittings of the Central Election Commission and lower level commissions via internet; procedural issues related to vote counting, among them to reinstate a provision envisaging indicating in vote tallies number of spoiled and unused ballot papers.