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Political Funding for Georgian TV Companies

02.07.2008
Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

“I doubt media will be supported in the future; the freedom of expression will be further restricted; newspapers and TV Company “Kavkasia” will encounter additional problems.”
“Everything depends how skilled and strong media sources stand. I do not know what they are planning but I know what I am going to do,” said journalists Ia Antadze and Nino Jangirashvili after news program of the TV Company “Mze” was taken off the air. Although the TV Company was often blamed for partiality, the closure of the news programs made the situation even tenser.

None of the employees of the TV Company “Mze” had prior information about the intended suspension of the news program “Mzera”. They only learned about the news being taken off the air along with the rest of Georgian society.

Davit Liklikadze, journalist for Kutaisi Bureau of the TV Company “Mze”: “I learned the news just the day before when one of my colleagues called me and shared the bad news. However, I did not pay attention to his statement as since the first day of the TV Company “Mze” was opened people have been claiming the company would either be closed down or would turn into an entertainment channel. I called at the TV Station and they calmed me down by telling me  not to worry, as everything was OK. However, later, the same people called me back and said I was right afterall. Our camera man was shooting some materials for the news program and I called him to stop working as there wasn't any use for it now.

As Davit Liklikadze stated they did not expect the news program to be closed down but such end results were quite possible because nobody needed the TV Company “Mze”.

Malkhaz Basialaia, another journalist of the TV Company “Mze” in Zugdidi, learned the information from news programs.

On June 26, Aleksandre Parulava, director general of the “Mze”, claimed at the press-conferences that based on the decision of the directors of TV Channels from Media-holding, the journalists working on news programs for the TV Company “Mze” would be employed at various TV stations in the nearest future. Reorganization was given as the the official reason for the suspension of the news program. 

Zaza Tatanashvili, the head of Holding “Union of Georgian Media”, stated that existence of two equal TV Stations in one holding was impossible based on TV marketing principles (Mze and Rustavi2).
The Holding “Union of Georgian Media” was founded in 2005 by the “Holding Georgian Industrial Group” Ltd. the holding unifies TV Company “Mze”, TV Company “Rustavi 2”, TV Company “Pirveli Stereo” and News Agency “Georgian Business Consulting”. One of the founders is MP Davit Bezhuashvili, a close person of the authorities. His brother is also well-connected at the higest level of government.

Aleksandre Parulava’s promise to journalists came true in several cases and part of journalists got employed at the “Rustavi2” and another part joined TV Company “Imedi”. Though some part of journalists remain unemployed.

Malkhaz Basilaia: “”Nobody has called me from the board of the TV Company and nobody has offered me any alternative job. I still hope that I will receive some proposal in the not-too-distant future. The only income for my family was the salary I received at the “TV Company “Mze”.

The topic of suspending the news program at the TV Company “Mze” is much spoken about. Mostly, the situation is assessed as just another attempt to restrict the freedom of expression. However, journalist Ia Antadze said it was difficult to estimate real reason for suspending the news program.

“We can speak about tendencies. I think the on-going process in media sources (I mean closure of “7 Days” and “Mzera”; negotiations between governmental officials and businesspersons not to publish their ads in several newspapers and on TV Company “Kavkasia”) must be discussed in wider context and then connected with post-election processes.”

Antadze stated that such a situation was easily predictable because elections were perfect source for population to restrict the power of the authority but now the government will do its best to persuade the population that their methods of the state development are perfect. The government has given up having any dialogue with the society; the system has became more mobilized and centralized.

Nino Jangirashvili, the head of news item at the TV Company “Kavkasia”, bnow believes that it is late to speak about tendencies because it is finished. The tendency started four years ago because all channels with the exception “Kavkasia” are run by government.

According to unofficial information the reason for suspending the “Mzera” was likely opening of TV Company “Imedi”. Davit Bezhuashvili will not afford to fund one more TV station and he preferred to support “Imedi” – as it has modern equipment and wide coverage.

An employee of Georgian Public Broadcasting, who preferred to keep his name anonymous, stated that Media market has come to a standstill in Georgia and not developing in the proper way.  Political money is circulating in the media market and has been for sometime.  Even the money spent on “Imedi” was stolen in Russia and it carried with it a political feature when it was reinvested in Georgia. A close look at some of the figures can demonstrate that Georgian TV Companies have been basically funded with political money and that has many ugly ramifications.

Two years ago, all media sources received the income of 20 million USD from advertisements. It is very small budget to support TV Station, as they have to compete for this money with other media outlets, including print and radio. A station has to pay 35,000 USD a month for its connection with satellite link; 1 090 000 USD for covering the territory and 500,000 USD for the purchase of licensed movies, provided this are not stolen like is the case with some stations.”

Here we have provided only small part of expenses of TV Companies. It is evident that under such circumstances and conditions, TV Stations are unable to survive without having access to additional funding sources. However, as the employee of the GPB stated, Georgian TV Companies can develop naturally if they were left alone and not influenced with political money.  However, much of the problem is that the ownership is concentration in the hands of too few is impeding the process; this situation delays the normal development processes in the media. Almost every leading company belongs to certain persons and there is no tradition of editorial independence when there are vested interests and hidden agendas.

The problem is further complicated because journalists do not preserve the independence as they fear for their jobs. The lack of professionalism creates problems because it is very easy to manipulate poor professionals from above. Moreover, there is no journalistic solidarity or trade union that could represent their rights and focuse on the integrity of the profession.

Because of these reasons, journalists of the TV Company “Mze” gathered and waited in turn for future employment at various TV Companies.

Suspension of “Mzera” coincided with the resuming of news programs at TV Company “Imedi”. Joruanlist Zviad Koridze thinks that Davit Bezhuashvili was obliged to close down “Mzera” because he could not afford to fund so many TV companies under today’s realities.

“The incident at “Mze” cannot be merely assessed as restriction of free speech. It was irreversible action because almost every TV Company is run by various financial groups. Such an abnormal situation that exists in the media business is further complicated as it has not developed as civil institution. I am fully aware that Davit Bezhuashvili does not have so much money to fund Rustavi 2, Mze and Imedi. Higher authorities do not want to close down the brand “Imedi”.

Before “Mzera” was suspended a number of talk-shows and other programs were also taken off the air or restricted. Consequently, the society doubts that it will not be the final attempt of the government to restrict the freedom of speech. Regardless, the interested side can apply other methods other than depriving license, closing down TV Companies, etc. For example, reportedly businesspeople are forbidden to place their ads on TV Company “Kavkasia”.

However, Nino Jangirashvili stated that the process is not frightening for “Kavkasia” because the company has become accustomed to working in extreme and difficult situations.

“It is pity that we cannot develop the TV Company in a normal way. Everything depends on the strength and skills of parties. I do not know what they are going to do but I know what I will do. The worst fact is they started to restrict the industry.  Recently such a kind of harassment was ceased and it had impacted our channel too.”

Ia Antadze doubts that anyone would open any new company because the Communication Regulatory Commission is very careful when it comes to granting licenses. Thus, she expects the news programs will be even more restricted.

“It is difficult to predict the future but I doubt anything will happen in support of media outlets. I pressume that freedom of speech will be even more restricted and newspapers and theTV Company “Kavkasia” will soon encounter new problems and this is not only for now but for the the future as well

Zviad Koridze expects the radio companies will be restricted too.


 

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