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On 25 September 2013, delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe met the presidential candidates. The leaders of the political parties informed the delegation members about the pre-election environment. Nino Burjanadze expressed her discontent on free airtime and advertising, saying: “I am being discriminated against when candidates of the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement have a number of privileges including free airtime and advertising possibilities while I have neither a chance nor a right.” After the meeting with the members of the delegation, while speaking with Imedi TV, Burjanadze also mentioned: “All the Ambassadors are astonished because of the reasons I was not provided any funding or free airtime… European practice implies equal opportunities for all presidential candidates in terms of free airtime.”

FactCheck

decided to investigate the truthfulness of Nino Burjanadze’s claims.

The issue of information provisioning for pre-election campaigns is regulated by Article 51 of the Election Code of Georgia. Paragraph 2 of Article 51 establishes a general rule for all broadcasting companies to maintain a non-discriminatory policy during pre-election debates and broadcast them involving all qualified election subjects. Paragraph 5 of the same Article obliges broadcasting companies to provide 90 seconds every three hours for each qualified election subject free-of-charge and upon a non-discriminatory basis. It is obvious that the broadcasting companies have an obligation to provide free airtime and advertising opportunities to only qualified election subjects.

In order to find out whether or not Nino Burjanadze is really “discriminated against,” we first of all investigated who is regarded as a qualified election subject according to the legislation and who from the current presidential candidates satisfies this requirement.

According to Paragraph 7 of Article 51 of the Election Code of Georgia, the qualified election subject during the presidential elections can be the candidate nominated by a political union that gets funding from the Georgian state budget. According to Article 30 of the Organic Law on Political Unions of Citizens, the political party that gets 3% or more votes in the general elections of self-government can be financed through the state budget.

According to the data of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, a total of 14 parties are being financed by the state budget. Of them, seven parties have nominated their candidates for the presidential elections and, therefore, are regarded as qualified election subjects. They are:  Giorgi Margvelashvili, Davit Bakradze, Koba Davitashvili, Sergo Javakhidze, Giorgi Targamadze, Zurab Kharatishvili and Teimuraz Mzhavia. Similar to Nino Burjanadze, the list of non-qualified election subjects comprises 16 other presidential candidates including:  Shalva Natelashvili, Nestan Kirtadze, Kartlos Gharibashvili, etc.

Paragraph 8 of Article 51 of the Election Code of Georgia suggests an alternative method for getting free airtime and advertising opportunities. According to the Paragraph, the broadcasting company can recognise a political party as a qualified election subject if it has more than 4% of public support according to no less than five nationwide public opinion research polls conducted during the election year or according to the research results conducted one month prior to the elections.

In order to determine whether or not Nino Burjanadze used the abovementioned opportunity, we spoke to Bakur Bakuradze, Head of the Public Relations Office of the Democratic Movement – United Georgia. According to his statement, the party addressed all the broadcasting companies although only Channel One, Channel Two and several regional TV companies responded. As is clear from the letter sent to the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the party asked for free airtime and advertising opportunities on 30 September 2013 for the first time and presented the study conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The Georgian Public Broadcaster declined the appeal of the candidate to be recognised as a qualified election subject on 4 October due to the following reason: the study published on 23 September was not conducted one month prior to the elections. On 7 October the presidential candidate addressed the Public Broadcaster for the second time. As party attorney Keti Zakareishvili underlines, they presented six social polls to the broadcasting company including those of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Burjanadze overcame the 4% threshold according to all studies. As is obvious from the letter dated 8 October 2013, the Public Broadcaster recognised Burjanadze as a qualified election subject. As for the other TV channels, the party received a letter of rejection from Maestro on 30 September and the same from Imedi on 7 October. Both TV channels declared to have a decision-making authority in their letters. Therefore, presenting the studies does not necessarily oblige a broadcaster to provide free advertisement and airtime.

According to Paragraph 1 of Article 50 of the Election Code of Georgia the Public Broadcaster, as well as other licensed broadcasters, must declare the length and schedule of the free airtime they can provide no less than 50 days prior to the elections. The information circulated by the Public Broadcaster makes it clear that Nino Burjanadze received 124 minutes of free advertisement time on Channel One from 11 October just like the other candidates. As for Channel Two, she received 122 minutes of free advertisement time similar to the candidates of other parties. This information is confirmed by the Advertising Office of the Public Broadcaster. Information provided by Rustavi 2, Imedi and Maestro confirms that Burjanadze has not used free airtime on the abovementioned TV channels.

Nino Burjanadze’s statement made on Imedi should also be mentioned when she declared that the delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly were astonished by the strange wording of the law since the European practice sets an equal airtime for all candidates. FactCheck

cannot verify the Ambassadors’ opinion in this respect; however, we can recall the report of the Venice Commission on the Draft Election Code of Georgia published in 2011. Since then the Code has been amended several times although the rules about free airtime have not changed. The report of the Commission says that the abovementioned rule limits the chances of political parties and puts them in unequal conditions. The report also emphasises the obscurity of Paragraph 8 of Article 51 as the law does not make it clear who holds the right to conduct such research or poll. The 2011 report of the Venice Commission called upon the government to reflect the principles of equality and fairness in Article 51.

Despite the negative evaluation of the existing regulations of Georgia by the Venice Commission, other European countries do not have a defined joint practice in this respect. In 2009 the Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research (NORDICOM) published a study on advertising during elections conducted in Germany, Great Britain, France and Sweden. According to the research, parties in France and Germany already represented in the parliament get more airtime than smaller parties. In Sweden, parties do not get free airtime. In addition to the abovementioned document, the studies of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) are also noteworthy. Other Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Latvia, provide equal free airtime and advertisement opportunities for all parties. Western European countries do not do the same although all parties get certain benefits. Only Great Britain has a practice similar to Georgia. According to the research of the Group of States against Corruption, the practice of Great Britain is shared by Ireland as well.

Conclusion

In fact, Nino Burjanadze could not use any free airtime or advertising opportunities as due to the Election Code of Georgia, she is not recognised as a qualified election subject. Despite the fact being correct, we should also consider the context. Burjanadze declares that she is “being discriminated against” as compared to the other candidates as if she were the only candidate who was not provided free airtime. As a matter of fact, 16 more election subjects had the same situation due to the regulations.

Nino Burjanadze did use the right provisioned by the Elections Code of Georgia and asked for free airtime. Her appeal was satisfied only by the Public Broadcaster and several regional TV channels. It should also be admitted that the broadcasting companies have an authority to make a decision concerning commercial issues and decline the request of a candidate. As it appears, Burjanadze is not in a different condition as compared to the other candidates. She used the authority provision by the law without any limitations and advertised free-of-charge on different TV channels.

As for European practice, equal free airtime is provided for every candidate in Eastern Europe while it depends upon the results of previous elections in Western Europe. Similar to Georgia, only Great Britain and Ireland do not provide any free airtime and advertising opportunities to non-qualified election subjects.

Therefore, we conclude that Nino Burjanadze’s claim: “I am being discriminated against when candidates of the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement have free airtime and advertising opportunities and I do not,” is MOSTLY FALSE.