On 14 August 2016, a political advertisement for the Khachishvili-Bedukadze Centrists party aired on the Public Broadcaster of Georgia. In the advertisement, the party promises Russian pensions, legalising the placement of Russian military bases on Georgian soil and adopting a law about dual citizenship for the people of Georgia. The video advertisement features the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and Russian military tanks.
After the Centrists party’s pre-election advertisement caused considerable public outrage, the Public Broadcaster removed it from the air. The Director of the Breaking and Current News Block of the Public Broadcaster of Georgia, Giorgi Gvimradze, stated that the company was obligated to allocate time for this political advertisement according to acting legislation. “I would like to clarify that the Public Broadcaster was not authorised to refuse allocating time for this political advertisement or tamper with its content in any way. The legislation sets clear obligations and so the advertisement aired on our channel,” said Mr Gvimradze. In addition, he assessed the aforementioned advertisement to be “advertising occupation” and said that “legal and legislative weaknesses” were to be blamed for this advertisement.FactCheck
verified the accuracy of Mr Gvimradze’s statement.
Article 1 of the Constitution of Georgia stipulates that Georgia is an independent, unified and inseparable state. Article 2 of the Constitution states that the territorial integrity and inviolability of the country’s borders are further ensured by the Constitution and other legal acts as well as being recognised by the international community of states and international organisations. Article 6 of the Constitution determines that the Constitution of Georgia is the supreme law of Georgia. According to Article 44 of the Constitution, any person residing on the territory of Georgia is obligated to fulfil the requirements of the Constitution of Georgia and other legal norms.
The pre-election political advertisement of the Khachishvili-Bedukadze Centrists political party contains messages directly contradicting the sovereignty of the Georgian state (legalising occupation armies and distributing pensions from a foreign country to Georgian citizens) whilst at the same time being in direct contradiction with the norms provided for by the Constitution of Georgia.
The issue of the media coverage of pre-election campaigns is regulated by the Election Code of Georgia, an organic law. Point 5 of Article 51 of the Election Code determines that the Public Broadcaster of Georgia is obligated to allocate approximately five minutes of its air time per hour for free political advertisements during the pre-election period and starting no later than 50 days before the elections take place. The Code does not prohibit airing the advertisements earlier than the aforementioned timeframe; however, the obligation about which the management of the Public Broadcaster speaks comes into power only on 19 August. Hence, the airing of the Centrists’ political advertisement on 14 August 2016 was the free choice of the Public Broadcaster.
Point 15 of Article 51 of the Election Code of Georgia determines that the Georgian National Communications Commission determines the rules for media participation and usage during the pre-election campaigns. The Commission is also authorised to monitor that the broadcasting companies follow all of the appropriate legal norms provided for by the Election Code of Georgia and react to any violations that might occur.
On 15 August 2016, after the Public Broadcaster removed the Centrist party’s advertisement, the Georgian National Communications Commission published the following statement:
“Based upon Article 50 of the Election Code of Georgia, any broadcasting company, including the Public Broadcaster of Georgia, is obligated to study the legality of every advertisement submitted by a political party and air it only after this. It is true that the political party alone is responsible for the content of the advertisement; however, the broadcasting company is fully authorised to address appropriate structures about legally dubious advertisements it receives and which the Public Broadcaster of Georgia did after removing the Centrist party’s advertisement from the air.”
The statement also underlines that the Public Broadcaster had no legal obligation to air an advertisement submitted before 19 August 2016.
According to Article 83 and Point 2 of Article 93 of the Election Code of Georgia, the Georgian National Communications Commission must file a protocol about the violation of the norms providing for the airing of political advertisements during the pre-election campaign and present it to Tbilisi City Court for further consideration.
Point 3 of Article 45 of the Election Code of Georgia stipulates that “a political party, a candidate for an election subject, an election subject or its supporters are authorised to prepare a pre-election programme. The programme cannot contain the propaganda of violence and war or the calls for toppling or forcibly changing the existing state or social order, violating the territorial integrity of Georgia, civil confrontation or enmity and calls for religious or ethnic confrontation.” Hence, it is the authority of the Election Administration of Georgia to react concerning the content of the political advertisement used by the Centrists.
The Election Code of Georgia stipulates that the Public Broadcaster is obligated to air free political advertisements no later than 50 days before the elections take place which, in the given case, is 19 August 2016. The broadcasting company is also authorised to address appropriate structures about legally dubious advertisements it receives and which the Public Broadcaster did only after removing the Centrist party’s advertisement from the air.
The Public Broadcaster of Georgia had no legal obligation to air the Centrists’ advertisement on 14 August 2016. The company also had the legal means to react to the advertisement’s content.Hence, the statement of the Director of the Breaking and Current News Block of the Public Broadcaster of Georgia, Giorgi Gvimradze, is a LIE.