On August 10 and 12, 2016 Labour Party of Georgia addressed Media Development Foundation (MDF). The letters noted that news room of TV Imedi does not broadcast the meetings of the Leader of the Labour Party, Shalva Natelashvili with electorate, presentation of candidates and briefings, and that its journalists do not attend the election-related events. One of the examples included an election-related event of the party scheduled on 12 August in Didgori. The party claimed that TV Imedi breached the equal treatment principle set by the qualified parties for media.
An additional communication with the party press-service revealed that comments made by the Labour party representatives are not disseminated via TV Imedi’s prime time news programs and the information about their activities rarely ends up in the reports during the day.
Communication on this issue took place with the newsroom of TV Imedi as well. The news room is aware of the complaint of the Labour Party. According to the editorial board, it has made several efforts for solving the problem, communicated with the representatives of the party. They added that the TV channel expresses readiness to broadcast every important event of the party.
MDF, with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia and in partnership with Free Press Unlimited (FPU), has been conducting monitoring of election process since April 2016. The monitoring includes prime-time news programs of various TV stations. Based on a 4-months monitoring results (April 1 –July 31, 2016), the Labour party was given 155 seconds in the main news program of TV Imedi that is 0.18% of the time allocated to other political forces covered by the TV channel (see diagram below). It is noteworthy that the party was not broadcasted in May at all, while in June, it was allocated only 3 seconds. With these data, TV Imedi ha the lowest indicator among the target TV channels of the monitoring.
Diagram 1. Time allocated to Labour party by 8 TV channels in prime-time news programs, April 1- July 31, 2016).
Georgian National Communications Commission conducts a quantitative monitoring of the media (including news programs of the day). According to the monitoring report of the commission covering the period from 8 June to 8 July, the Labour Party was allocated only 53 seconds during the daytime, while the party was not covered during the prime-time at all.
The information retrieved and the results of the monitoring reveal that TV Imedi does not provide adequate and equal pre-election coverage to a qualified electoral entity – Labour Party. Media Development Fund recommends TV Imedi to consider the following requirements set by the law and the self-regulatory code of broadcasters:
- During the pre-election campaigning, while broadcasting socio-political programs and elections, broadcasters should follow the principle of impartiality and justice, as well as the Election Code of Georgia, Law on Broadcasting and Code of Conduct of Broadcasters (Article 51, Paragraph 1).
- According to the Law on Broadcasting, a general broadcaster shall broadcast pre-election debates during the electoral campaign in its service area. Moreover, the general broadcaster, as well as Public Broadcaster, during the electoral campaign in their service area shall ensure the equal participation of all qualified electoral subjects in the pre-election debates in a non-discriminatory manner (Article 55).
In addition, the Code of Conduct of Broadcasters, which is a mandatory self-regulatory document for the broadcasters, defines the obligation to allocate airtime to the qualified electoral entities:
- Holder of broadcasting license that carries out public broadcasting and broadcasts elections, is obliged to equally allocate airtime to the qualified electoral entities and their candidates in a way that they are able to inform the electorate on their political program, positions and qualification (Article 23, Paragraph 2).
- To ensure fair and impartial coverage of elections, broadcasters should give qualified election subjects opportunity to comment on significant issues in daily news programs throughout the
campaign period (Article 24, Paragraph 1).
- News and current affairs-political programs should provide a thorough and balanced coverage of campaign activities of qualified election subjects (Article 24, Paragraph 3).
Recommendations of international organizations also include the commitment for the broadcasting media to broadcast elections in a balanced, impartial and fair manner:
- The media should "ensure that all the political unions and individuals wishing to participate in the elections have unrestricted and non-discriminatory access to the media, without any administrative and legal obstacles" (Copenhagen Document (1990), OSCE);
- "Broadcast of elections by the broadcasting media should be fair, balanced and impartial" (Recommendation R (99) 15 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on media coverage of the election campaign, September 9, 1999).