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Tbilisi Minibus Drivers Ordered To Turn Off Radio, Play Adverts

Many of Tbilisi's residents rely on "marshrutka" minibuses as a cheap form of transportation. (file photo)
Tbilisi residents who don't like music blaring from minibus radios are getting a reprieve, of sorts.

But they won't be enjoying golden moments of silence while riding on the city's so-called "marshrutkas."

Tbilisi Minibus -- the umbrella company for four private firms who between them have exclusive control over minibus routes in the Georgian capital -- has ordered all of its drivers to stop playing the radio and, instead, bombard passengers with audio and video advertisements.

Tbilisi Minibus director Gigla Gabishvili says the order was issued on June 6 to bring his firm in line with a contract signed with Tbilisi's newly created "Elephant" advertising agency in 2011.

According to Gabishvili, the contract guarantees each minibus driver will play the Elephant agency's advertising playlist to their captive audience of passengers while they travel around Tbilisi.

Special video display screens and speakers have already been installed in about 100 of the company's 2,477 minibuses. During the installation of the screens, radio receivers are being disabled.

Many of Tbilisi's residents rely on minibuses as a cheap form of transportation.

That has raised concerns about minibuses being misused to swamp riders with political advertisements during Georgia's upcoming election season, circumventing "equal time" requirements on broadcast media.

Opposition politicians say the four minibus operators -- who won a tender in January 2011 giving them control over the sector -- are all part of a single business group reputed to be controlled by Tbilisi's Mayor Giorgi Ugulava, a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Ugulava is a leading member of Georgia's ruling United National Movement who served as Saakashvili's chief of staff before becoming Tbilisi mayor.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held in Georgia in October.

-- Marina Vashakmadze, Ron Synovitz

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