Georgian Journalists Say Independence Threatened At TV Station
The remaining employees of the TV channel refuse to prepare newscasts
A month after the opposition TV company Rustavi 2 passed into the hands of a new owner, despite an initial promise not to interfere in the channel’s journalistic activities, on August 20, the new CEO of Rustavi 2, Paata Salia, announced the release of several leading journalists. , including Georgy Gabunia, who used obscene language against Russian President Vladimir Putin in July.
After this episode, the State Duma of the Russian Federation proposed to introduce economic sanctions against Georgia. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected this offer..
The reason for the dismissal of the journalists from Rustavi 2 was the fact that most of them intend to switch to Mtavari Archi, the channel recently founded by the fired Rustavi 2 CEO Nika Gvaramia. According to Paata Salia, working on the two TV channels will cause a “conflict of interest.” New contracts will be signed with the rest of the employees, according to the new head of Rustavi-2..
“Paata Salia told me that the new owner of the TV channel, Kibar Khalvashi, did not want me to stay on the air, especially after I scolded Putin. He thinks that this text was prepared for me by Gvaramia, and Saakashvili was behind it, i.e. that I am in direct contact with Saakashvili and this was a provocation prepared by him. They think so precisely because they themselves are in such a direct connection with Ivanishvili (former prime minister, chairman of the ruling party – N.Ch.), “Gabunia told the media after he was dismissed from his post..
The journalist claims that the text of the address to Putin, which he presented on the air of his program on July 7, was known only to him and that he did not agree with anyone. Gabunia also said that he would work for Mtavari Archi, which other Rustavi-2 journalists have also switched to..
The Strasbourg Court of Human Rights (ECHR), by its decision of July 18, recognized the owner of the TV company Kibar Khalvashi, whom opponents accuse of being loyal to the current authorities.
The lawsuit over the property rights to Rustavi-2 lasted for four years. In 2015, businessman Kibar Khalvashi began to sue the owners of Rustavi-2, the Karamanishvili brothers, who are associated with ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. It is alleged that in 2007 he was forced to cede his share. In Georgia, Khalvashi won lawsuits in all instances. After that, the Karamanishvili brothers applied to the ECHR.
After the decision of the ECHR was announced, Kibar Khalvashi issued a statement in which he stated that he was not going to change the editorial policy of the TV channel and that only Rustavi 2 CEO Nika Gvaramiya would have to leave the channel..
Several weeks later, Khalvashi announced that he intended to sell Rustavi-2. At the same time, he stressed that “the only person” with whom he will not negotiate is ex-President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili. Since there were no applicants for the acquisition of the TV channel, on August 19, Khalvashi announced that he had decided to leave the channel in his own possession and begin the process of its “recovery”.
“I am confident that Rustavi 2 will become an independent TV company in the near future, both financially and politically, and journalists who are truly independent and free of political interests will serve the best interests of a strong media community,” said the new owner Rustavi-2.
After the dismissal of their colleagues, some Rustavi 2 journalists announced that they were leaving the channel. Kibar Khalvashi wrote in this regard on his Facebook page: “What happened was not a surprise, but still unpleasant.”.
On August 21, the news did not go on the air on the Rustavi-2 TV channel. According to the Georgian media, after the dismissal of some of the journalists, not a single film crew went to the shooting in protest, and none of the remaining employees agreed to broadcast newscasts. Also, since yesterday evening, the website of Rustavi-2 has not been updated, which, according to statistics, was the most popular source of news among Internet users in Georgia..
Georgian NGOs believe that the purpose of the changes at Rustavi 2, including the dismissal of the head of the news service, is to change the channel’s editorial policy and to root out criticism of the authorities. The letter, which was signed by ten reputable Georgian NGOs, says that the dismissal “under an unconvincing pretext” of the channel’s leading journalists, including the authors of the most rated programs, deepens suspicions that the transformations on the channel are related to changes in the editorial policy of Rustavi-2..
Transparency International Georgia recalled that initially the new owners of Rustavi 2 gave the public verbal guarantees that the critical thrust of the channel’s editorial policy would not change and that a month later, the suspicions of the non-governmental sector in this regard turned out to be not unfounded.
“This is a message to other journalists and Rustavi-2 employees … that they must obey the new owners, the new management, and this should affect the channel’s editorial policy,” the Fair Election organization believes..
The Charter of Journalistic Ethics of Georgia notes that despite the fact that until now, Rustavi-2 has maintained a critical tone towards the authorities, with the departure of the head of the news service, the channel’s criticality is likely to decrease..
The reaction of politicians
Georgian oppositionists regretted changes to Rustavi-2.
Rustavi 2, as we knew it, has ended its existence. Now there are new battles ahead … Thanks to those journalists who have prepared critical materials and broadcast them over the past years. Their great merit is that the people got to know the essence of Ivanishvili’s oligarchic regime, ”says one of the leaders of“ European Georgia ”MP Sergi Kapanadze.
Saakashvili’s UNM party calls the position of Rustavi 2 journalists a “revolution of dignity”.
“Yes, this is a revolution of a different quality, a long-term, with many fronts, a hybrid revolution – for the return of the country by the ripped off Russia, an obligatory revolution for the return of pride and dignity. Chapeau !!! “, – wrote the deputy from the” UNM “Salome Samadashvili on the social network.
Officials have not yet commented on the situation.