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Independent Georgian Media Under Saakashvili?

23.09.2008
Nona Suvarian, Tbilisi

“Completely impartial media and equal accessibility for all opposition parties remains the main challenge for our so called democracy,” pointed out the Georgian president during his September 16 annual report to the Georgian Parliament. Representatives of media and other stakeholders considered that the president as having admitted that Georgian media outlets are faced with difficult conditions.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Secretary General of the NATO, also supposed that “despite the difficult situation in the country, Georgia will stubbornly pave its way towards democracy and eventual reforms.” The secretary general spoke about those reforms that were recently discussed by the president before the parliament. 

Nevertheless, even if the president makes promising statements about “Impartial media and equal accessibility” there are still many distracters in society who are not totally convinced. The reason for their continued doubt that many such statements and promises have been made were to our society but they have never been fully realized

As Ia Antadze assessed during an interview with the Human Rights Centre on September 23rd, “the president placed attention on the TV Company Kavkasia as it reflected the general picture facing freedom of broadcast journalism.

She said that “When Mikheil Saakashvili spoke about Kavkasia it means that other TV companies are not as independent as Kavkasia. We do not need only one TV station to demonstrate such freedom, and when the Saakashvili says: “We do have Kavkasia, we have internet”- so that essential means that we lack something else.  

The president stated that our society has many unanswered questions and how debates are a perfect format of TV programs where governmental officials and opposition members are able to meet each other face-to-face.

Nino Jangirashvili, director general of the TV Company Kavkasia stated that everybody has been ready for debates for a long time already. However, in saying this, she explains that they need just kind will on the part of the government to broadcast such debates on “their channels” or for [representative of government to be willing and able] to participate in them.

“We would be happy to organize debates and if governmental officials would actually participate. Unfortunately, however, they are not ready. Nonetheless, we are not pestering them by telephone calls so to invite to take part in such debates. After they declined our several invitations we have not even tried to get back in touch with them again.  We will start new projects and try to connect them in the nearest future. Let’s then see how much more ready they will be in the future to participate than what demonstrated thus far.

I personally felt that they had no intention of allowing independent media coverage during the president’s recent statement before the parliament. Regardless, they might allow for debates at Georgian public broadcasting where Gia Tortladze and Goka Gabashvili will be invited, as they are two who have nothing to debate about. They will just sit opposite each other and look at one another.  As for other TV stations supervised by the government, I don’t think that anything will be changed there … but it would be good [change] as debates are useful tools for decision-makers.”

As for GPB, debates will be renewed by the company and next Monday a political talk-show “Dgis Komentari” (Comment of the Day) will start functioning.

Sofo Kvintradze: “The talk-show will be aired twice a week as usually with the same old format. However, we do plan to change the format of the program staring on December 1. In saying this, however, two months remain before December and since society demands political talk-shows and debates, we decided to restore the talk-show at least with its old format for now. Afterwards, political talk-shows will have completely different formats than what has been thus far.’

It is strange that the board of the GPB started to think over the necessity of talk-shows only after president’s statement.

Tina Khindasheli, one of the leaders of the Republic Party, assessed the report of the president as ‘nice conversation” and “ordinary cosmetics”. The Republican politician stated that Mikheil Saakashvili has demonstrated several times during his 5-year term in office that he cannot be a democrat leader.

“Every time, when he felt oppression from the West, he would make loud statements and shouted out that he was not guilty for the problems and everything would be changed in future. He meant the court; but we see that we have the same court as before.”

“I do not expect anything new; particularly under those same conditions when the government has completely conformist minority in the parliament. The opposition and the government can only compete against each one another in a demagogy and rhetoric fashion, which does nothing towards resolving real problems.”

In addition, Tina Khidasheli stated that Mikheil Saakashvili knows very well what an independent media is, and that’s why he will never allow independence of media in our country; and if we can achieve an independent media that means that he should resign from office.

“I hope there will be at least one journalist in Georgia who will speak out loudly what instructions are given to TV-journalists during the planning sessions on Mondays. If something happens and at least one talk-show appears in Georgia, it will be continuation of those same instructions. As if there are no parliamentary opposition in Georgia; as if there are no new IDPs and new victims; there are no independent experts; there is only list of three men who are permanent guests of Georgian TV programs.”

The fact that European structures are so interested in the democratization of Georgia and make loud statements about it does little other than instill some semblance of hope in society. Media Independence is the litmus test and acts as a catalyst for the country on the road to democracy. However, Tina Khidasheli from Republican Party is convinced that the process will not assist in bringing about real independence for the Georgian media.

“During recent years at least one TV Station was closed down a year. Radio companies had real problems as well. The whole world knew about it, including the EU.  However, nobody started worrying about it; it is unfortunate to say but Georgia does not seem to be a key country for them. Georgia has attracted so much attention in these recent times, and this is only because of the war of August with Russia. The entire world faced the danger of destabilization that could have resulted from the war. Moreover, when one of the parties to the conflict was the Russian Federation, the most unpleasant point in the whole discussion in the world media is the fact that everybody forgot Georgia. Instead the discussion shifted to the danger that could come from Russia and the impact that it would have on the entire world.”

That’s why Tina Khidasheli does not hang onto any hope that Europe would go crazy and will start to worry about democracy of Georgia. She thinks this job must be only be done by Georgians themselves.

Journalist Ia Antadze stated that Georgian president has to choose right point for the second time around, He has to decide either the way to militarization or to democratization and the need for the reinforcement of democratic institutions.

“The situation might dictate the president to change the style of governance that will be perfect way out from the current situation. If it does not happen so, then we will have to continue our way in the same direction then the results will not be positive.”

The journalist spoke about one way to open up for the liberation of media sources in Georgia.

“There is a TV Company “PRO’ in Romania that belongs to media-group of the central Europe. This organization has its media organization in the Eastern Europe too. Maybe, that or some other international organizations will be interested to establish their own TV Company in Georgia as well.”

“However, in order to establish a TV Company here the organization will need a frequency and license to be provided. In addition, there must be kind will of the government too who ill grant the frequency to foreign investor that will allow them to create an independent TV Company in Georgia.”

In near future, the government will have to pass one more exam. On September 30 the issue of granting the license to TV Company Maestro will be settled. The final verdict of the judge will demonstrate the real aims of the government and if it really has the resolve it claims.

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