Transparency International Georgia is appealing to the Georgian Prosecutor’s office to ensure that all actions that affect media companies are taken in a transparent and proportionate manner, after authorities moved to seize satellite dishes from a warehouse used by Global TV.
Ahead of the October 2012 parliamentary elections, freedom of the media and access to information are crucial to ensure a free and fair campaign.
Any case of alleged vote-buying, illegal party financing or corruption should be properly investigated. However, any sanctions should be based on clear evidence and conducted in a way as to not limit freedom of the media. Similarly, steps should be taken to ensure that actions are not perceived by the public as attacks against the media.
In the afternoon of June 21, authorities started to seize satellite dishes from a warehouse used by Global TV, where the television provider, in which the brother of Bidzina Ivanishvili owns shares, appears to store as many as 70,000 satellite dishes. The confiscation was approved by a court order which states that there was reason to believe that Global TV would use the dishes to bribe voters.
The case raises the question if seizing of the property was appropriate: According to Article 151(2) of the Criminal Procedual Code, seizing property for preveniting it to be used in a crime (the argument provided in the court order) is only allowed if the property could be used to commit a very severe crime (i.e. punishable with at least ten years in prison; Article 12(4), Criminal Code). Vote-buying, however, is punished with a maximum of three years in prison (Article 164(1) of the Georgian Criminal Code).
In recent weeks, Global TV has offered satellite dishes and receivers to clients who sign a ten-year contract with the company to lease the dishes. Clients are not required to make any payment in the first year of the contract, and payments of GEL 4 per month starting from the second year.
The Prosecutor’s office said on its website that it launched a criminal investigation against Global TV (Global Contact Consulting Ltd) and Bidzina Ivanishvili for alleged buying of votes under Article 164(1) of the Georgian Criminal Code. In a press release, the Prosecutor’s office accuses Global TV of distributing satellite dishes “free of charge” in various regions of Georgia and states that despite a request of the Chamber of Control to Global TV to refrain from distributing dishes, the company has continued to do so and that it had requested the sealing of satellite antennas in order “to prevent further commission of the crime” from the Tbilisi City Court.