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On 30 December 2014, guests of the talk show, Archevani,

were engaged in a discussion of the events of 2014. The show’s host asked Davit Bakradze, one of the leaders of the United National Movement, a question about the legislative amendments to the law on television advertisements. Mr Bakradze replied: “We are told that we have to adopt this law (on broadcasting) as soon as possible because the EU demands it so. It is a lie. The EU does not present any demands about that. The Association Agreement signed with the EU says that the law should be adopted after three years from the start of the period when the Agreement has been ratified. So far, the ratification process is still in progress and three years have not passed either.”

FactCheck

decided to verify the accuracy of the statement.

The European Union and Georgia signed the Association Agreement on 27 June 2014. The document envisages cooperation between the EU and Georgia in political, trade, social, cultural and security fields.

Chapter XVIII of Title VI of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement envisages cooperation in the audio-visual and media fields. On that ground, Georgia made a commitment to harmonise its national legislation with the legislative acts of the EU; namely, according to Appendix 33 of the Association Agreement, Georgia is required to harmonise its legislation with Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on Audio-visual Media Service which was adopted on 10 March 2010. Georgia has a three-year period after the Association Agreement is ratified to fulfil this obligation. The only exception concerns one specific regulation which should be implemented within a five-year period. According to Section 2 of Article 431 of the Association Agreement, this particular regulation enters into force following the ratification of or after depositing the approval instrument. It is true that the provisional use of some chapters of the Association Agreement started from 1 September 2014. That said, however, the norms envisaging cooperation in the audio-visual and media fields remain inactive. Additionally, as not all of the EU member states have finished the ratification process, the countdown for Georgia’s commitment has not yet begun.

It is interesting to look at the amendments which are to be made to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting and whether or not the amendments are in accordance with Directive 2010/13/

EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on Audio-visual Media Service.

The Law of Georgia on Broadcasting defines the precise intervals when TV companies are allowed to air telemarketing and commercials. It is much stricter when it comes to the issue of airing commercials than the EU directive. The Law prohibits interrupting the broadcast of an official state event, an official speech of a top government official or a religious ceremony. It also prohibits interrupting socio-political, religious or pre-election debate programme, whose duration is less than 15 minutes with any advertising or telemarketing. According to Section 2 of Article 20 of the aforementioned EU directive, the airing of commercials is prohibited only in the case of a broadcast of a religious ceremony. There are no further restrictions.

According to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting, a news programme may be interrupted with advertising or telemarketing for a maximum of once every 15 minutes whilst a feature film, TV film or film series may be interrupted every 30 minutes. The EU directive, however states that a 30-minute interval is required for a news programme instead of a 15-minute interval.

The most important restriction envisaged by the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting concerns the total duration of advertising time. According to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting, commercials and telemarketing should not exceed a 20% threshold of a broadcasting hour, limiting them to 12 minutes accordingly. The same restriction is envisaged by Section 1 of Article 23 of the directive. However, the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting rejects Section 2 of Article 23 of the directive which says that the 12-minute restriction rule will not apply to announcements made by the broadcaster in connection with its own programmes and ancillary products directly derived from those programmes, sponsorship announcements and product placements. It must be noted that Georgia was given the previously mentioned five-year implementation time precisely for this regulation. In fact, the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting envisages harsher restrictions in contrast to the directive and says that TV companies have to put programme-related announcements in the 12-minute period. Of mention is the fact that there was no need to accelerate the implementation of this norm in the directive as it was possible to reduce the time for commercials to 12 minutes in the given five-year period.

Additionally, a closer look should also be taken as concerns a restriction imposed upon those programmes which are fully or partially financed by a sponsor. Until 15 January 2016, information about sponsors must not exceed 5% of a broadcast hour; that is, three minutes. Until 15 January 2017, this time will be further reduced to 90 seconds. Contrary to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting, the directive does not envisage such a type of restriction at all.

TV representatives are visibly dissatisfied by the proposed amendments to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting. They assert that swift and harsh changes could be a threat to the financial independence of television companies.

On 5 February 2015, the first hearing of the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting took place at the Parliament of Georgia and produced lively debates. Members of the Parliamentary Minority assessed the initiative as an assault to independent media and accused the ruling party of curbing media freedom. The Parliamentary Minority assumes that the Law is against one specific TV channel, Rustavi 2, as its revenues from commercials well exceed the same advertising revenues of other TV companies. Therefore, Rustavi 2 will suffer the most if the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting is implemented. It must be noted that even members of the Majority, whilst talking about the Law, have also often mentioned Rustavi 2, thereby fuelling the beliefs of the Parliamentary Minority that the Law is of a politicised nature. Finally, after time-consuming deliberations, the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting was adopted at the first hearing – 63 votes were cast in favour and 30 votes were cast against. The members of the Parliamentary Minority requested blocking the Law for a second hearing due to its discriminatory nature but the claim was rejected by the Parliamentary Majority. The Parliament of Georgia also did not take the resolution

of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly into account which declared that the amendments to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting were poised against the financial and editorial independence of private TV channels.

Conclusion

Title VI of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement envisages cooperation in the audio-visual and media fields. Within the framework of this cooperation, Georgia has taken the obligation to harmonise its national legislation with EU legislative acts and international legal instruments; specifically, Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on Audio-visual Media Service adopted on 10 March 2013. Further, according to the Association Agreement, Georgia has a period of three to five years in order to implement the directive. Considering the fact that this particular part of the Association Agreement has not yet entered into force, the three-year countdown has not yet started.

The proposed amendments to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting mostly copy the restrictions envisaged by the EU directive. However, the amendments impose additional restrictions as well. The EU directive states that the 12-minute advertising time is not to include announcements related to TV programmes whilst the proposed amendments will make the regulations of the directive even stricter and force broadcasting companies to incorporate programme-related announcements within the 12-minute timeframe for the advertisements. Moreover, the restrictions on advertising sponsors which are envisaged by the amendments are not even mentioned in the EU directive.

It must be noted that the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting was adopted at the second hearing. Davit Bakradze is correct to point out that accelerating the implementation of the directive was not necessary at that moment. The EU decided to give Georgia three to five years to ensure the country’s smooth and painless adaptation to the new legislative changes.

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Davit Bakradze’s statement is TRUE.

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