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Tbilisi TV Mast Possible Sellout Posing Threat for Georgian Media?

29.07.2011

Eka Kevanishvili, radio Liberty

Part of the Georgian media still protests on the streets – this time the reason of the protest is the internet auction announced on Tbilisi TV mast which shall determine a new owner of the mast and transfer 100% share of state ownership  on Tbilisi TV mast and other related objects for four-year management. Coalition for Media Advocacy requests on behalf of its member organizations to conduct tender or hold contest under transparent terms since the danger for independent TVs and radios posed by this development is rather real.

“Do not oppress media” – read the posters of journalists who are still standing on the streets. The silent protest action was held on July 28th at the Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development. The reason is the auction announced on Tbilisi mast. This development does not look illegal at one glance. However, part of the media thinks that transferring mast to new owner will pose threat for independent media. Thus the founder of TV Company Caucasia addressed the Ministry of Economics with a statement:

“I, as an individual interested in the participation in the auction, would like to receive information from the Ministry of Economics regarding the object announced to be under sale. The Ministry of Economics is not giving this information despite my numerous attempts. According to the announcement, it is impossible to ascertain what is being sold – a group of TV masts or a restaurant network. I am requesting this information. Or else I will submit complaint regarding the outcomes of the auction. We are also requesting the stop of the auction and if the mast necessarily needs to have a new owner, conduct a tender or a contest with transparent conditions for everyone.”

On July 26th the Minister of Economics Vera Kobalia stated:

“The process is completely transparent. Any company can take part in this auction. The amount of the necessary investment is 12 million and any company which states that it will improve the service and bring in the new techniques will receive the right of management for four years.”

None of the representatives of the national broadcasters showed up on July 28th action. The Caucasia leadership explains that these broadcasters will probably not be endangered by the sellout of the mast:

“It seems like the group which is going to become a manager of the mast represents a governmental side. Thus this will not be a threat for national broadcasters. However, it is a threat for all other TV Companies and radios. Specifically, that the new investor will increase the tariffs and make it impossible to broadcast. The biggest threat is that for 2015 we all need to transfer to the digital broadcasting and nobody will have a chance anymore. A new manager of the mast will be the only monopolist company and we all will be obliged to live under its trap.”

Instead of thinking about the fulfillment of new obligations which implies transferring to digital system of broadcasting for 2015 and make this process flexible for TV-radio Companies, things are taking conflicting course, - notes journalist Zviad Koridze:

“Certain financial political groups are aiming to take over the TV mast that will give them the controlling mechanism. By determining the new tariffs they can create intolerable conditions for independent media means.”

Why are the journalists requesting to conduct a tender or contests of different type? The argument of the journalist of the newspaper Rezonansi (Resonance) Eliso Chapidze is that in this way the conditions are going to be more transparent and the suspicion generated around the boxes of press dissemination not too long ago will no longer exist. Eliso Chapidze recalls that back then the press dissemination was supposed to be possessed by a single monopolist which would have controlled the press.

The head of the Regional Media Association Ia Mamaladze thinks that the decision of sell-out of TV mast suspiciously coincides with the period when Georgia has three choices ahead:

“When the information distribution is controlled by a single owner this is very dangerous during the pre-election periods. The media in the regions, small TV Companies and critically media will happen to be under particular danger.”

The AlphaKom which was called Georgia’s Teleradiocenter before July 4th was exploiting 38 average and big size masts along with 274-meter mast in Tbilisi. In the regions of Georgia, along with other services of frequency, company serves more than 30 radios and 16 TV Companies. The director of AlhpaKom Boris Adamia is surprised to why such fuzz is created around the mast when it still remains under the state ownership. He does not confirm the possible increase of tariff and states that it is regulated by the law and not by the wish of some new owner:

“The tariffs never come out of air and it is determined according to concrete economic calculation. The Law on Broadcasting states that the tariff should be oriented at the expenses. AlphaKom or other managers do not have right to change this if it is not oriented at expenses. This is not so and it should not depend on somebody’s desire.”

Boris Adamia recalls the Georgian Law on Broadcasting and states that nobody has right to distinguish certain TV or Radio Company according to his/her personal favor.

Next Monday, on August first, the media planned a whistling auction again in front of Ministry of Economics. On this day, the auction which will reveal new owner of Tbilisi TV mast will get closed.

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