On 13 November 2013, at the plenary session of the Georgian Parliament, debates were held in respect to the ongoing financial and management crisis at the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB). Pavle Kublashvili admitted that for the last six-to-eight years the Public Broadcaster was leading in terms of elections coverage according to all assessment reports. However, this year the GPB was overcome by Maestro in regard to levels of objectivity and comprehensiveness.FactCheck
took interest in Pavle Kublashvili’s statement and checked its accuracy.
While researching the pre-election assessment reports, we looked into the findings of the international and local organisations observing elections in Georgia for the last eight years.First of all, FactCheck
studied the reports of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) about the elections conducted in the years of 2006-2013 in Georgia and examined the findings about the Public Broadcaster.
According to the final report of the Municipal Elections of 5 October 2006 of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission: “In its news programmes, the Georgian Public Broadcaster dedicated the biggest share of political prime-time coverage to the President and the government at 34% and 30%, respectively. As for the contestants, the highest attention was given to the United National Movement (UNM) (10%), followed by the Davitashvili, Khidasheli, Berdzenishvili bloc (5%). The tone of coverage of these two election contenders was mostly positive and neutral” (page 15).
The final report of the Election Observation Mission on the Extraordinary Presidential Election of 5 January 2008 admits that: “In the four weeks preceding the elections, public TV devoted 27% of its political and election prime-time news coverage to the activities of Mr Saakashvili of which 98% was positive or neutral. The next most covered candidate, Mr Patarkatsishvili, received some 18%, mainly in connection with his alleged involvement in a coup plot. Some 33% of this coverage was negative. Despite this fact, the news coverage became more balanced in the last two weeks prior to Election Day with a notable decrease in the amount of prime-time news coverage devoted to Mr Saakashvili… The tone of his coverage, however, remained practically unchanged” (page 14).
According to the final report of the Election Observation Mission on the Parliamentary Elections of 21 May 2008: “The campaign news coverage lacked balance on all monitored TV stations apart from public TV with the UNM receiving the most coverage on almost all stations. Most monitored TV channels, including public TV, devoted significant and favourable coverage to the activities of the authorities. During the monitoring period, public TV devoted similar proportions of its political and election prime-time news coverage to the United Opposition (18%) and the UNM (17%). While the ruling party was given overwhelmingly positive coverage, the coverage of the main opposition bloc was mainly neutral. The biggest share, however, was devoted to the President and the government (together 32%) and was overwhelmingly positive in tone” (page 16).
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report on the Municipal Elections of 30 May 2010 notes that: “The GPB’s First Channel offered its viewers a balanced picture of the campaign in its news. By contrast, the campaign coverage in news programmes of all other monitored television channels lacked balance with some supporting the government and others the opposition. During the last six weeks of the elections campaign, the First Channel of the GPB devoted 14% of its political and election news to the UNM and 15% to the Alliance for Georgia (AfG). The qualitative analysis indicated that the UNM received slightly more positive coverage than the AfG. The GPB's Second Channel provided permanent access to all political parties and covered their campaign activities” (pages 15-16).
According to the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission on the Parliamentary Election of 1 October 2012: “The media monitoring results indicated that among the monitored media outlets, only Channel 1 provided politically balanced news coverage of the campaign. In the newscasts of Channel 1, the key contestants, the UNM and the Georgian Dream (GD), received similar proportions of mostly positive and neutral coverage – 14% and 18%, respectively. Channel 2 provided all major political parties with a platform to present their views in a free non-moderated environment and provided extensive news coverage of their campaign activities” (page 20). However, the report also indicates that: “The media monitoring of free advertisements revealed that all advertisement blocks aired by Channel 1 and Channel 2 of the GPB started and finished with UNM spots which may have given the UNM an advantage over other contestants” (page 18).
The Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on the Presidential Election of 27 October 2013 reports that: “Only the GPB-1 provided qualified candidates with equitable coverage. In its newscasts, GPB-1 provided similar proportions (from 12% to 15% of election-related coverage) to Mr Bakradze, Ms Burjanadze, Mr Margvelashvili and Mr Targamadze, Mr Davitashvili and Mr Kharatishvili” (page 9).FactCheck got interested in the reports of other international observer missions as well. It is noteworthy that the assessment of the media environment is included in the Statement of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Election Observer Delegation to Georgia’s 2012 Parliamentary Elections. While describing the media environment, the report states that: “Credible media monitoring groups report that the GPB provides more politically balanced news coverage while Rustavi 2 and Imedi have a pro-government bias and Kavkasia, Maestro and Channel 9 are biased in favour of the opposition” (page 7). As for the Observer Delegation to Georgia’s 2013 Presidential Election, the report expresses concern on the processes ongoing in the Public Broadcaster (page 9). The report also includes the assessment of Transparency International - Georgia: “The GPB hosted two presidential debates but was not able to provide extensive and insightful coverage of the candidates and fulfil its public service mandate due to a financial and leadership crisis that appears to be at least partly caused by partisan infighting.” In order to have the complete picture FactCheck
looked into the pre-election media monitoring reports of other local organisations.
The mid-term report of the pre-election period media monitoring of the Parliamentary Elections of 1 October 2012 conducted by the Georgian National Communication Commission (23 September 2012 - 30 September 2012) reports that: “The Public Broadcaster provides adequate coverage of all important considerations while the invitation of guests to the studio was representative and balanced. Qualified election subjects had the opportunity to comment on important issues for everyday newscast coverage on the Public Broadcaster” (page 13). However, the report evaluates the performance of other TV channels, like Rustavi 2, Maestro, Imedi and Channel 2, similarly. Herewith, it should be also mentioned that the Georgian National Communication Commission has never before conducted pre-election media monitoring for other elections.
The report on the Media Monitoring Results of the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia published by Mediamonitor represents the findings of TV channel monitoring and indicates that: “The subjects were basically covered with a neutral tone on Channel 1 and Kavkasia” (page 20). However, from June until September, President Saakashvili was covered with a more positive tone.As for the second part of Pavle Kublashvili’s statement, we encountered the assessment of TV channel Maestro only in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of 27 October 2013 by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. In particular: “The newscasts of all private broadcasters monitored by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM mainly focused on the activities of Mr Margvelashvili and Mr Bakradze. TV Maestro
devoted similar proportions of coverage to both candidates which was mainly neutral in tone” (page 9).FactCheck also
checked with Pavle Kublashvili to identify the source he used when speaking about the advantage of Maestro in comparison to the Public Broadcaster in 2013. Kublashvili declared that the representatives of international organisations made the abovementioned evaluation mainly during private conversations.
Based upon the aforementioned evaluations we can conclude that the pre-election reports contained a tendency that the Public Broadcaster was more objective in its coverage as compared to other TV channels. Nevertheless, other reports also mentioned some problems with the GPB. Pavle Kublashvili is largely right when evaluating the performance of the Public Broadcaster for the last six-to-eight years. However, at the same time, the MP does not comment upon the concerns expressed in respect to the Public Broadcaster in the abovementioned reports.Kublashvili also mostly correctly comments on the problems of the Public Broadcaster in 2013. The same is underlined by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) based upon Transparency International - Georgia: “The Public Broadcaster was not able to fulfil its mission and comprehensively cover the pre-election campaign.” However, it should be noted that the ODIHR reported in the evaluation of the Presidential Elections of 27 October 2013 that: “Only the GPB-1
provided qualified candidates with equitable coverage.”As for Pavle Kublashvili’s statement that Maestro was the most objective broadcaster of the 2013 presidential elections, such a similar assessment is not reported in any of the other evaluation reports. During an interview with FactCheck,
Kublashvili mentioned that he obtained this information during private conversations with the representatives of international organisations.Therefore, we conclude that Pavle Kublashvili’s statement: “All reports (for the last six-to-eight years) presented the Public Broadcaster as the most objective provider of information. Only this year the situation changed when the Public Broadcaster was overcome by Maestro by the level of coverage and objectivity as well as the comprehensiveness of the information,” is Half TRUE.