At the end of February, the audit department of the Revenue Service (a legal entity of public law operating under the Ministry of Finance of Georgia) launched an inventory check of the company TV MR GE. This company is the licensed representative of Nielsen Television Audience Measurement and is the only entity in Georgia measuring television audiences - this data is very important for TV stations in order to attract advertisers.
During its inventory check, audit department representatives requested a list of all so-called peoplemeteres - devices that are connected to TV sets which the company installed in several hundred urban households across the country in order to measure the peoples' viewing behavior.Representatives of the Ministry asked TV MR GE to provide addresses of all households that have agreements with the company over the installation of the devices - information that is confidential.
The request by the Revenue Service to provide the identity of households might put the credibility of the research results at risk. If any interested side, including the Government of Georgia, will have the access to the addresses, there is a risk that the rating results will be influenced or manipulated. Without rating measurements, it is impossible to objectively assess the popularity of TV programs and to provide advertisers and advertising agencies with credible data, which may result in the financial collapse of the television sector.
In order to protect confidential information, TV MR GE offered the Revenue Service to collect peoplemeters from households, in order to allow the auditors to check the equipment at the company's office. This option was apparently rejected by the Revenue Service, which argued that that the law obliges its auditors to check the company's equipment at the location.
According to TV MR GE, the company does not oppose being subject of an inventory audit by the tax collectors, but stressed that it is important for the company to agree on the methodology - to ensure that the interests of households, the company, and its clients and the whole advertising sector are not compromised.
Last year, in the frames of G-Media program, IREX conducted an audit of TV MR GE's measurement system, the result of which confirmed that the methodology fully complies with the best international practices and norms of audience measurement.
We believe that the Revenue Service should refrain from actions that will harm the development of free and competitive media market, which is a precondition of a media environment that is free from political bias and control. We call on the Ministry of Finance to agree on an alternative approach with TV MR GE and inspect the peoplemeters at the company's office.
It is also important that personal data protection inspector reacts on this issue, as the problem concerns personal information of citizens involved in the research. We call on the Inspector to carry out its duties as defined by the law and consult the Revenue Service Department as well as the private company, to ensure the protection of citizens' personal data.
Transparency International Georgia
The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Media Development Fund (MDF)