The non-governmental sector is calling on the state to remove the imposed collection of debts from the bank accounts of media companies TV Pirveli and Mtavari, carried out a few days ago, georgiatoday.ge.
The two TV stations announced Friday that due to their inability to pay taxes, the tax authorities have imposed a collection from their accounts.
NGO Transparency International (TI) Georgia
says that this will significantly undermine the proper functioning of the two independent stations, especially in light of the ongoing severe economic crisis inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
TI says that the state has decided to suspend operation of some businesses due to the virus outbreak, focusing on the businesses that are the main source of income for the media, as well as their main customer for TV advertisements.
“The representatives of the media outlets claim that the crisis has resulted in a sharp decline in their income and that this was the reason they were unable to pay taxes. We believe that in such conditions, it is crucial for the Government of Georgia to introduce certain exemptions for the media, including the postponement of tax payments. We call on the government to keep in mind the invaluable role and functions that the independent media plays in such extraordinary times and take the respective measures to ensure the unhindered work of said media,” the NGO stated.
The Coalition for Media Advocacy also calls on the government to immediately remove the collection from the accounts of TV companies. It says that they have repeatedly argued that a selective tax policy has been pursued towards broadcasters, and that it remains a tool used by various Georgian authorities to pressure the media.
“Today, the smooth operation of the media is important in order for the population to receive information about COVID-19, which doubles the responsibility of the state. We call on the Government of Georgia to lift the temporary measures and immediately remove the collection from TV company accounts," said the Coalition for Media Advocacy.
Nodar Meladze, Head of the News Department of Mtavari TV, complained that at a time when businesses are in crisis and therefore cannot pay channels to advertise their services, the Ministry of Finance has decided that media work is not needed and has imposed collection on two television stations.
Meanwhile, TV Pirveli founder, Vato Tsereteli took to Facebook to express his concern.
Tsereteli explains that while his television journalists and cameramen are putting their own health and lives on the line to provide viewers with information regarding the pandemic, information is no less important than medicine.
“I am astonished and I have no words! Gentlemen, our and your enemy is Corona, not free media,” he wrote on Facebook. Finance Minister Ivane Machavariani responded to the criticism of the government, saying these two TV companies are not the only ones whose accounts will be collected from.
Machavariani says this was an automatic step with companies that had failed to pay their taxes, and no-one was being singled out or targeted.
“Because of the coronavirus epidemic, we submitted a tax deferral package to the sector that was most affected, several weeks ago. This concerns deferment of property and income taxes until November 1. For that, they had to address the Revenue Service. In case of all other areas, the system will function automatically. Consequently, the collection is also done automatically. TV Channels are no exception,” Machavariani said.
The Minister also said that for the past few months, December, January, and February, the state has been collecting money from these TV stations through collections because they were not paying tax.
Machavariani noted that compulsory measures were applied to those companies which in the first stage will not get tax benefits.
"Tax benefits were applied to the tourism sector and other related areas, but there are plenty of other sectors, including television, factories and others, that will not enjoy such benefits and we had to impose tax collection on their accounts...We see that the social burden will increase, but social payments and incomes will decrease, so it is important to find the right solution," he explained.