Social advertising in the service of the ruling party
A detailed study of social ads aired during recent months on the Public Broadcaster demonstrates that many video broadcasts under this status do not meet the legislative criteria laid down for social advertisements. Furthermore, a majority of them, according to their tenor, represent political ads which are intended as endorsements in favor of the ruling party. We believe that this case is an example of utilizing administrative resources for electoral purposes, and an unlawful donation made by the State on behalf of one political union.
TI Georgia has blogged previously on the subject of politicized social ads; however, respective bodies have not reacted to prevent this illicit practice. As a result, the Public Broadcaster continued to air such advertisements.
We have studied a number of videos ordered by state institutions and aired with the social ads label. A majority of them depict achievements of the Georgian government and tells us of its future plans. An entity that orders the airing of video materials labeled as a social ad on the Public Broadcaster does not have to pay for it; however, such a product must meet certain criteria.
Georgian legislation is fairly strict in regulating what can be considered as social advertising. In particular, Article 12(1) of the Law of Georgia on Advertising defines social advertising as ‘advertising aimed at supporting public goods and achieving charitable objectives, which is neither commercial nor election advertising and does not promote a legal entity of public law or a government organization as well as the service rendered by them.’ The following videos aired under the social ads status fall short of these criteria.
The video tells us about the previous problems with energy supplies in Georgia and the role of the Georgian Government in solving these problems and achieving independence in the energy sector.
This video also exceeds the legislative frames established for social ads, as it shows the achievements and reforms of the post-Rose Revolution government in comparison to its predecessor. It is clear that such ads cannot be considered as social according to the Georgian legislation and it represents rather political or even commercial advertising.
It is true that this video is relatively less political, but its association with social ads is also quite difficult to prove as previous achievements of a government agency are highlighted.
The Georgian President and senior members of the Government can be seen on the frame. They discuss the Government’s ten-point plan, including accessible and quality health care. The president says that he always keeps his word, which once more highlights the political nature of the video.
The video discusses the construction of new hospitals and accessible health care services. The Georgian president shows up in this ad as well, therefore it can hardly be described as ‘aimed at supporting public goods and achieving charitable objective’.
The successful implementation of the program is shown in the video, advertising a governmental body’s activity.
It is clear that all these videos not only fall short of being named social ads, but can also be considered as political ads advocating in favor of the ruling party. If we compare these videos with official electoral ads of the ruling party (for example this one) we can see that in their content and aspiration they are similar and are unequivocally perceived by the public as the putative social ads listed above. The slight difference is that the social ads do not have a subtitle that reads ‘political advertisement’ and the ruling political party is not mentioned in them.
Consequently, we believe that creating and broadcasting such kind of ads using state funds must be considered an unlawful donation in favor of the ruling party. In addition, such conduct eliminates the line of distinction between the ruling party and the state by which the duties undertaken by Georgia according to the OSCE Document of the Copenhagen Conference are being violated. It should be highlighted that according to the OSCE report on the 2010 municipal election in Georgia, one of the main problems in Georgia is there is almost no line of distinction between the ruling party and the state.
We refer to:
- The State Audit Office of Georgia and the Interdepartmental Commission on Free and Fair Election to conduct a detailed analysis of the aforementioned video ads and react respectively in accordance with their competence.
- To the central and municipal authorities of Georgia not to violate the law and abuse the administrative resources.
- To the Public Broadcaster to pay closer attention to the materials airing as social ads and make decisions based on the current legislation.
- To the Georgian National Communication Commission to address this issue and take appropriate measures.