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From 2021 Commercial Political Advertisements May Be Banned

30.06.2020

 Lana Giorgidze

On May 27, 2020, on behalf of the Member of the Parliament Gia Zhorzholiani from the parliamentary fraction Alliance of Patriots the draft law was registered in the Parliament of Georgia, which aims to ban commercial political advertisements in Georgia from 2021. On June 1, 2020, the Legal Department of the Parliament’s office examined the bill and concluded it met the criteria to be initiated and debated in the parliament. 

 

The clarification letter of the bill states the problem, which shall be resolved with the proposed law: “The Article 24 of the Constitution of Georgia guarantees the right to election and it includes both active and passive election rights. In relevance with the mentioned provision, the elections shall be based on the principle of equality. “Equality” has wide notion and also refers to the pre-election campaigns, like political advertising and participation in political debates. Therefore, the norms regulating equal conditions for the participation in debates and producing political advertisements shall be coherent with the Constitution of Georgia.”

In accordance with the clarification letter, it is necessary that all election subjects were able to have equal access to the pre-election political advertisement and not to place qualified election subjects in advantageous situation. The only way to ensure the equality is to ban commercial political advertisements during the pre-election campaign so that all election subjects had equal access to it. Like it is regulated, for example, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. 

The clarification letter also states that commercial political advertisements are allowed only in three of the EU member states: Italy, Portugal and Lithuania, though with strict restrictions and all election subjects have equal access to political advertising. 

Deputy Chairwoman of the parliamentary fraction National Movement Salome Samadashvili told media that the government will benefit from any restriction of the political activities of opponents and the initiative serves their interest.

“I believe this restriction contradicts the democratic values in the country. It is important to find alternative way to create equal opportunities for the political subjects,” Salome Samadashvili stated.

Although the bill proposed by MP Gia Zhorzholiani promises equal conditions for the election subjects, it will create huge problems for media, because commercial advertisements are source of income for the televisions, particularly regional broadcasters. 

In accordance with the analysis of the Georgian National Communications Commission, in 2018, the televisions received 75,262, 955 GEL from commercial advertisement. Total price of the free political advertisements aired during the first and second round of the 2018 Presidential Elections was 30 million GEL, while the televisions received only 8 million GEL from commercial political advertisements in the same period of time. Total price of free and commercial political advertisements was 38 million GEL. 

Therefore, prohibition of the commercial political ads will undermine smooth functioning of the regional televisions. Representatives of the TV-Company Trialeti stated that if the Parliament supports the initiative, the regional televisions will have to stop functioning. 

“The initiative is already alarming because if the Parliament approves it, the regional televisions will close down because we usually allot the funds we receive from the commercial political ads on several months and if we lose this income, it means we will have to stop working,” representatives of the TV-Company Trialeti said.

However, monitoring of the nongovernmental organizations revealed that restrictions on commercial political ads were often violated and the political advertisements aired by televisions 60 days before the Election Day contradicted the regulations.

In accordance with the survey report prepared in the frame of the project “Professional Media for the Elections, political advertisement is one of the decisive elements of the election campaign. They are traditional TV advertising rolls, posters, banners, leaflets. The experts clarify them as an instrument of market competition, whose primary goals are: to make the essence of the political platform of concrete political powers more accessible, emotional, easy-to-understand, original and easy-to-remember for the audience; to convince the voters to support the concrete political power, create psychological feelings towards them that will direct sympathies of the electorate towards the political party and its candidate. 

In accordance with the initiative of MP Gia Zhorzholiani, after the bill is adopted, non-qualified election subjects will be able to effectively inform the voters about their visions with free political ads and through participation in the debates. While qualified election subjects already enjoy significant privileges, the new law will create more fair election environment for the unqualified election subjects that will promote healthier political life with new faces. 

The deadline to examine the bill at the plenary session is September 18, 2020. 

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