The number of accusations voiced against the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) have gone up. MPs are already speaking of the conflict of interests in relation to Irakli Chikovani and thinking of his dismissal. Having released audio footage on Maestro on November 6 former Commission employee Giorgi Ratishvili accused Irakli Chikovani of concealing the illegal actions taken by Caucasus Online. To find out what Irakli Chikovani is thinking about the footage, if he was concealing violations by Caucasus Online and whether the conflict of interest is in place Media.ge obtained an interview from Irakli Chikovani.
Mr Irakli you have surely listened to the covert audio footage released on Maestro TV, do you confirm it is your voice?
The voice is surely mine. I hired a lawyer Emzar Paksadze to find out whether the recording is legal and if the text is not mangled.
Are you likely to launch legal dispute over the footage?
Lawyers are to decide, I can’t tell you that. I asked my lawyer to provide legal evaluation to the case. I am sure I am going to be much spoken about.
According to the footage you are suggesting the Caucasus Online representatives to register papers with earlier date.
If you listen carefully there is a clear message audible that illegal work is not admissible. We are telling that to every operator – have your papers arranged ahead of audit and protocol being drawn up, to avert the sanction. As regards the registration of papers with earlier date that’s very easy to check. Anyone can come and see whatever was registered by earlier date. If the action of the kind was truly taken that should be investigated. That’s intentional black PR against me.
According to the same footage for 10 months you have been helping Caucasus Online out. You were aware that the agreement was missing and the Commission made no response while other cable companies were imposed sanctions.
The data on whoever was fined has been repeatedly requested by NGOs as well as cable companies. There is no evidence we have been helping or not helping anyone out. For over a year and a half Levan Mikeladze Foundation and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) has been conducting our monitoring and the only violation found was quasi I have conflict of interest.
Shall Caucasus Online submit contracts to the Commission?
We imposed a fine on the company but what contracts have been delivered I am unaware of it. The warning had been issued earlier too. But now they have got to pay a stiff fine.
Giorgi Ratishvili, having released the footage, says Irakli Chikovani was loyal to GMG too and the contracts submitted by the company were unavailable to him.
Super TV and MagtiSat had made requests for the contracts submitted by GMG. 80 percent of contracts have been assigned to Ratishvili in person, I did verify that today. How come they were unavailable to him?!
Radio Hereti released a statement alleging that the distribution of frequencies was carried out based on deals, hence Hereti was unable to obtain broadcasting license in Tbilisi
You mean I made a deal with Tskheli Shokoladi? I can give no answer to this absurd. Hereti also alleged that there are some frequencies available and conducts broadcasting through the violation of license. In response I asked what broadcaster they meant but no answer has been provided thus far. Everybody keeps forgetting I do not represent the whole Commission. There are four more members, have they all made deals?
After new government’s coming into power the Parliament is reportedly going to discuss the GNCC Chairman’s issue. How feasible does it sound that Parliament might decide on your dismissal?
Can give no answer to that.
According to the Georgian Law on Broadcasting at least one-third of the listed Members of Parliament may initiate the procedure to dismiss a Commissioner if a conflict of interest arises. In the recent period your opponents repeatedly appeal to conflict of interest
When being appointed to the position I clearly laid out I was the founder of Magistyle Media. In case of illegality I would have re-registered the company to someone else. Do you think that would be a hard task? Haven’t you heard of the re-registration of firms? It takes just a day, nothing else. But I did not do that since I am not breaching the law.
I am not going to justify myself, I am not guilty of anything at all. The Commission is open, so am I. I can give answers to any issue. On November 8 I am going away on business and will be back in four days, I am not running away.
They say operators offer no bribes but Magistyle has got ad customers. I was appointed to this position in 2009. Geocell has been the Magistyle customer for six years. Did Geocell foresee I was going to be the Chairman? Caucasus Online is not our customer at all.
In response to your allegation on having no conflict of interest they refer to the violation of advertising limits by Rustavi 2. Magistyle Media used to place ads at this TV company, but somehow the Commission failed to notice repeated violations. The Commission showed concern into the case following the complaint lodged by Monitor. Opponents say Irakli Chikovani was interested to have as many ads on Rustavi as possible
Foolish accusation. The Commission is not regulating advertising. We have fined Rustavi 2 and Imedi twice for the violation of ad limits.
But only after the Monitor’s complaint.
But we did respond, didn’t we? Did we close eyes to that? I can tell you more, they also say I made Parliament increase ad limits. Seems like I am managing everything. If anyone is, to some extent, aware of advertising business, s/he he must be aware that higher frequency of ads never means more revenue to the television. Cut ad running time and increase fee for advertising – that’s easier and a way more correct to my mind.
Even after that the Commission has inspected neither Rustavi 2 nor other companies to check whether the advertising rules were observed. Do you think the GNCC’s monitoring service is working efficiently?
Monitoring service is quite an independent body that is authorized to determine where to go, what to inspect and how. If monitoring service comes to me to notify where they are going to, I give consent.
Aren’t you taking part in it?
Of course, I am aware that the monitoring service is going for inspection. And the rest of the Commission members too. Inspection takes place upon their initiative or based on someone’s complaint. I can’t tell we have sufficient resources. Many people are not employed at this Commission. Hence, we fail to manage everything.
The monitoring service has not identified that TV company Saqartvelo was violating the license terms, in particular airing no news programs. Why wasn’t the company penalized?
You should ask monitoring service over the issue? I don’t know why it happened that way?
I would like to ask you about the incident in relation to Akaki Sikharulidze….
It was a funny thing, I think.
He alleges that the Commission is ignoring him and he is likely to quit the Commission.
I don’t think Akaki Sikharulidze is going to quit the Commission. Yesterday an ordinary working meeting was held. None of the Commission members were present. Very strange it’s all happening now. Why has he been silent for so long? Has he been ignored and suppressed for the past two weeks only? These people should start wearing the martyr’s robes. Whatever Mr Akaki did yesterday is simply incomprehensible, to say the least.
How would you evaluate your 3-year work? What do you consider as the most important achievement made by the Commission?
The Commission managed to stir up competition in the mobile phone sector which used to be the issue of top importance. There was zero competition in this sector, hence we were paying very high fees. Now we can talk at 10 Tetri per minute instead of 28.
We investigated frequencies and completed the hardest job. Tomorrow we are going to send a consultative paper to the Ministry of Economics and Parliament. We have provided a serious analysis whether it is possible for four mobile operators to work normally.
And in regard to the field of broadcasting?
In the field of broadcasting we provided a consultative document for the switchover to digital broadcasting. In this regard we are going to play the first violin. The leading force is the Ministry of Economics but we did a lot more than we were to.
Have you been communicating with the Ministry of Economics over the issue in the recent period?
The staff have been recently appointed at the Ministry, they have got lot of work to do. We have sent them a paper and now waiting for their feedback.