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Sidestepping the law on social advertising

06.07.2012

 Levan Natroshvili, Transparency International – Georgia

The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and several private TV channels have been airing advertising videos, showing and highlighting achievements and future plans of the Government of Georgia and specific government organizations in recent weeks. These ads are so-called social advertising, meaning that the organization that ordered the ad does not pay TV stations for having it shown. However, the ads in question often fail to meet the criteria of social advertising and may rather be qualified as political advertising.

Social advertising is regulated by the Georgian legislation which obligates holders of radio and TV licenses to air this type of advertising free of charge. The legislation is fairly strict in regulating what can be considered as social advertising: Article 12.1 ofthe Law on Advertising, defines social advertising as “advertising  aimed at supporting public goods and achieving charitable objective, which is neither commercial nor election advertising and does not promote a legal entity of public law or a government organization as well as the service rendered by them.”

In our opinion, the following advertising videos aired as social advertising do not meet this definition:

1. Advertising on increase of pensions;
2. Advertising on education reform;
3. ”The Rose Revolution – 8 Years on”;
4. ”We Build a House”;
5. ”I Love Tbilisi”.

These ads have been aired by the GPB. Save for several exceptions, the GPB does not have the right to air commercial ads. In all five cases, government agencies (the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection; the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Welfare; Tbilisi City Hall; and the NATO Information Center) have addressed the Broadcaster with a request to classify these ads as social advertising, and accordingly to air them free of charge.

The advertising video on an increase of pensions very much resembles pre-election political advertising – it mainly shows the President of Georgia, who promises to raise pensions by September 2012. And this date coincides with the pre-parliamentary election period in Georgia (which presumably will be held in October 2012). However, due to the fact that under Georgian law the status of a political advertising may be granted to the ads disseminated at the pre-election period only, the dissemination of materials with the content of political advertising during the non-election period is left beyond regulation.

The ad on education reform also goes beyond the scope of social advertising. The video tells the audience about past reform achievements and services provided by the Government of Georgia, in a style that is usually used for political campaign ads in pre-election time.

The political nature is even clearer in video showing the post-Rose Revolution achievements and reforms of the current Georgian government, portrayed through the words of the NATO Secretary General. The President of Georgia and other high officials are also shown.

The ads “We Build a House” and “I Love Tbilisi” are less loaded with political content, but are not quite social ads either. Although these ads do not directly advertise the activities undertaken by the current government or other public institutions, the shots and several song phrases used in the videos clearly hint at achievements that the audience links to the current administration. These ads hardly qualify as advertising “aimed at promoting the public good and achieving the charitable goals.”

Public institutions are not prohibited from producing videos and placing other ads on their activities in the media. However, in these cases, the government agency has to pay for it from its own budget. The above-listed ads, as well as other similar videos aired in the form of social advertising are rather long. If these ads had to be paid for from government budgets, these campaigns would be fairly expensive.

Most likely, state agencies consciously violate the law and advertise their own activities under the pretext of social advertising, thus saving considerable budgetary means. Of greater concern are cases, when in essence several of such videos are of political nature and can be even regarded as examples of abuse of administrative resources for political purposes.

We ask

• the Georgian authorities to respect the law in regards to social and political advertising and not to abuse the administrative resources;
• the media outlets means to pay more attention to the nature of government advertising, and ensure that their actions are in line with existing legislation.
• the Georgian National Communications Commission pay close attention to this issue and, if necessary, follow up with broadcasters to ensure compliance with the law;
• the political parties, that have access to administrative resources, not to use the public resources for political purposes;
• the Office for Financial Monitoring of Funding of the Parties, the Chamber of Control of Georgia and the Central Election Commission of Georgia to examine each case thoroughly and react accordingly.
Article was initially published on the website of TI-Georgia


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