TV companies did not violate the law by running ads during the Prime Minister's speech
On April 1, several TV companies interrupted the live broadcast of the government session to broadcast advertisements during the Prime Minister’s speech. Rustavi 2 and Maestro interrupted broadcasting by inserting commercials, whereas Imedi ended its special edition before the Prime Minister finished his speech and aired commercials afterwards.
Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) made a special statement concerning the decision of Rustavi 2 and Maestro to interrupt the broadcasting through airing commercials. The statement noted the comment made by a Rustavi 2 journalist that the TV company was compelled to break for commercials under the Law on Broadcasting which entered into force on April 1 2015. According to GNCC, the amendments enacted in the Law on Broadcasting with the purpose to regulate TV commercials, which, in fact, entered into force on 1 April, “do not provide for the above requirement." The GNCC statement also says that the Commission will examine whether the law allows the TV companies to interrupt broadcasting by airing commercials and will make a commentary clarifying the practical application of the pertinent legal norm.
Article 63, Paragraph 11, Subparagraph, of the Law on Broadcasting stipulates that telemarketing and advertisements shall not interrupt such programs as official public events and official speeches of the top government officials. The Law of Georgia On Civil Service, in turn, provides a list of state-political positions including: the President, Members of Parliament, Prime Minister and ministers; also the heads of governments and members of the supreme representative bodies of Abkhazia and Adjara Autonomous Republics. Importantly, this is certainly not the first time that broadcasters have interrupted direct transmission; GNCC however, has never examined the issue before.
The Law on Broadcasting itself does not define ‘official public event’ and ‘official speech of a high-ranking state-political official’. Under a stricter interpretation of this legal provision, broadcasters would be prohibited from interrupting the transmission of not only speeches or any regular meetings of the Prime Minister or the President (such as a government meeting), but also addresses made by, for example, Members of Parliament by airing commercials. Such an interpretation is irrational, as it would result in television broadcasting that is overfilled with speeches by officials. Therefore, we interpret the meaning of an ‘official speech’ in the law as a speech made by a public official on the occasion of a particular event, such as statements made during a national emergency; this would be the sole rational and realistic definition of the law.
It is worth noting that the Audiovisual Media Service Directive sets out rules for when and how to insert television advertising or telemarketing in certain programs or religious services (Article 20). Georgia undertook to incorporate these standards into its national legislation upon the ratification of the EU Association Agreement. The Directive, however, says nothing about events related to the speeches made by state-political officials.
Transparency International Georgia believes that the TV companies that did not provide the full live coverage of the Prime Minister's speech did not violate the Law On Broadcasting and no measures should be taken against them by the regulatory body (GNCC). We think the discussion around the issue highlights the need for the above provision of the law to be adequately interpreted to ensure that broadcasters do not face similar ambiguity in the future.