Georgia to face a shortage of satellite antennas?
A few satellite dishes can be spotted at several small electric stores when entering the Lilo Basroba, Georgia’s largest wholesale market, located beyond the Eastern outskirts of Tbilisi. In recent days, rumors in the capital have been circulating that it has become increasingly difficult to buy satellite dishes and receivers that allow people to watch not only the national, pro-government channels but also the opposition-affiliated TV9 and Maestro TV, another station critical of the government, for free via a Turkish satellite.
When TI Georgia asked traders at Lilo earlier this week if they could supply some 15 sets of dishes and receivers, traders say they can only provide small amounts of equipment: “No, we do not sell so many, you can have two or three dishes”, one small business owner told TI Georgia staff. Several other shop owners at the market gave similar responses: they were willing to sell one or two satellite dishes, but not more. Asked why they set this low limit, most sellers turn away. “The market for antennas is gone at the moment”, one salesman says. Asked what had happened, he responds: “Politics.”
On the bottom of Lilo market is a big warehouse. Smaller retailers at the market and stores from across the country buy their supplies here. But according to people working at the market, the major wholesale supplier of satellite dishes has suspended its operations. The warehouses were locked when TI Georgia went to talk to the dealers there.
The get a better understanding of the availability of antennas, TI Georgia called several companies which sell and install satellite dishes and asked if they were able to install some 20 dishes. The common response of the companies were that “We cannot provide you with that quantity at the moment because there are some problems in Lilo” or “We are not interested in selling such quantities of dishes”, “We cannot provide you with 15-20 satellite dishes”. Asked what kind of problems, the response was: “Some political misunderstandings.” However, the companies said they were ready to install two or three dishes per client.
A TI Georgia volunteer in Batumi on Tuesday went to six stores to inquire about the availability of satellite dishes. Each store had about 10 dishes in stock but shopkeepers said that this was a new supply and that before they had no dishes available for several weeks. The problem was that wholesalers in Tbilisi were no longer supplying dishes, shopkeepers told TI Georgia. Salespeople in several Batumi stores said that the dishes and receivers they had now were the last ones available and that when sold, they did not expect to receive new shipments in the coming months.
A spokesperson of the Customs Service told TI Georgia that no shipments of antennas are currently waiting for registration and that there is no delay with the processing of imports of electronic equipment.
Two Georgian satellite operators, MagtiSat and Black Sea Sat, which launched their operations, offering packages to clients as well as the necessary technical equipment. For these services, however, subscribers need to pay a monthly fee as well as an installation fee of up to GEL 200, while a number of Georgian channels can be watched via Turksat for free with any satellite dish. Both providers have their own dishes and receivers, Black Sea Sat told TI Georgia that its supplies are not affected.
Last week, the authorities seized some 20,000 satellite dishes which Maestro TV had imported and planned to distribute for a subsidized fee across the country. The action was presented as a PR campaign, aimed at increase the station’s technical reach. The prosecutor’s office accused Maestro of having imported the dishes on request of Elita Burji, a company affiliated with the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, and accused Maestro of trying to buy votes. Maestro TV said that the dishes were financed by one of its owners, Maka Asatiani, and that it was not part of any political campaign.
In June, the authorities had seized some 70,000 satellite dishes from warehouses of Global TV, a company co-owned by a brother of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the opposition Georgian Dream movement, accusing Global TV of using the dishes to buy votes for the opposition.
Do you have any first-hand information about the reason for the alleged shortage of satellite dishes? What are your recent experiences when trying to buy and install a satellite antenna? Please post your views below.
The G-MEDIA program is made possible by support from the American people through USAID. The content and opinions expressed herein are those of Transparency International Georgia and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, USAID or IREX.