Government Pressure Shuts Down Iberia TV
First the station cancelled the programme “Dialog”, then the “News Programme”. Finally the entire station itself shut down. The Didube-Chugureti district court ordered the TV Company Iberia to cease operation as of May 19, 2004. It is the second television station sacrificed to the “velvet” developments of the “Rose Revolution”.
Pressure against dissenting media voices began on February 19 of this year, when the government charged the Omega Media Group with tax evasion. The government has ordered many branches of the company to close. This included the newspaper “Akhali Epoka” and the magazine “Omega”. The investigation against Omega continues, in spite of the fact that all pre-trial limits for gathering evidence have expired.
Recently we interviewed Luba Eliashvili, the former head of the Iberia’s news department, who claims that the government exercised pressure on her personally, as well as on the entire television station.
- What was the reason of cancellation the programme “Dialog”?
- Apparently, the authorities did not like my programme.
- Was there direct pressure exercised on you?
- The government exercised direct on the entire Omega Media Group, of which Iberia was a part. The government has been gathering evidence from our offices since February 19, 2004. Police and other government agents have been stationed in our building ever since. I say this is illegal, even if Interior Minister Gia Baramidze claims otherwise, because permanently stationing police in our building to constantly scrutinize us constitutes the hampering the progress of our business, which is illegal. The time limit for searching and taking out documents has already expired. In the past, Shevrednadze’s government took financial documents from Rustavi 2, which was still considered to be pressuring the media, without even impeding the working process. In our case, the documentation had already been taken away, but the operation of the television continued to be impeded. As for the pressure exercised on me personally, it was during the time of the revolution. I received threatening phone calls. After we addressed the leaders of the protest movement, they stated at a demonstration that no pressure should be exercised on media, and the threatening phone calls stopped. Evidently, someone powerful did not like my programme, since it was unbiased. Mrs. Nino Burjanadze would have liked me to portray events in a way favorable to her, completely uncritically. I have no personal political agenda.
-Can you name the people exercising the pressure on you?
- Apparently, the leaders of the opposition at the time were responsible, since they managed to stop the calls. Mrs. Burjanadze stated at the demonstration that no pressure should be exercised on the media and the calls stopped. I think the threatening phone calls were coming from the activists, who immediately understood the new massage from Mrs. Burjanadze. After that, some pressure was exerted on the station as a whole, although there were also many callers offering support. Many people have asked, “Where Luba Eliashvili’s program?” People seem to either love or hate my program. Few people seem to be indifferent attitude towards the show. The objective and unbiased viewpoint I try to offer is probably the reason for this. As I see it, the governmental representatives I have very different interpretations of what it means to be unbiased. You may recall that Mrs. Burjanadze thanked the journalists of Rustavi 2 for supporting the revolution developments. At the time, she said that while they were partial and biased, she was glad they were on her side.
I have also been shot at. Someone fired three bullets at my house. One of them broke a window and two others lodged in the frame. This happened on November 25, two days after the revolution. Police did not even investigate, in spite of the fact that I had concrete evidence. Clearly, the shots endangered the lives of the people in my house. Under such pressure, it is difficult to remain objective.
- After February 19 you remained on the air despite the pressure.
- Yes I did, but it was mostly just to inform society what was going on. No one from the government agreed to visit our programme. I asked them many times, and it was too bad that many people who I respected very much for adhering to their own principles avoided participating in the “Dialog”. Some expressed their attitude towards television very harshly.
- Has the time limit of the pre-trial investigation expired?
- The time limit has already expired. Roman Gotsiridze stated that a law should be enacted that prevents the hindering of operations for the purpose of investigation. But this law already exists. When Walter Schumer, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, saw the situation, he stated that it must not be possible to artificially put a business into bankruptcy, which is what was done in the case of the Omega Group.
- Have you taken any measures against this?
- We brought the case to the court, and we’re waiting for the case to begin.
-How will you get your message to the general public?
-I’m going to make use of my status as a journalistic and express my opinion wherever I have the opportunity. About a month ago, Peter Baker, a correspondent from Washington Post, got in touch with me and interviewed me. He also interviewed representatives of the Georgian government. Soon after this, I visited the Washington Post web site, and saw a large number of articles, but not my interview. Not only was my interview missing, but also any information about the general situation in Georgia. During this time period, Vladimir Khikhilov, a representative of NTV, a Russian TV Company, interviewed me, but the interview was never broadcast. Two weeks ago, journalists from “Sarke”, a Georgian weekly magazine, interviewed my husband, Shalva Shavgulidze, who is a prominant lawyer, and me, but these interviews were also never published. I certainly want to let the public know about my problems. I’m currently thinking about how to proceed with my career. I lived during a time period when expressing your own opinion meant that you were a dissident. Still I was not afraid, and I’m still not. If the government wants to label me a dissident, then I will be a dissident. I will always say what I think is right.
- What kind of pressure do you think the government is putting on freedom of the press?
-In my opinion, the company “Imedi” enjoys comparatively more freedom because the government cannot attack a business which owns its own channel. Most of their busienss isn’t done in Georgia.
I am very sorry for Channel 9. Not long ago, the channel acquired a license to broadcast throughout all of Georgia. Apparently, this didn’t alarm the government, but they probably had some influence in the business. I think that our government has taken notice of the property of some people who have become successful through hard work and not because of their relationships with government officials. In order for a businessman to maintain good relations with the government, he must sacrifice freedom of speech. I am now paraphrasing a comment made by Giga Bokeria on the program “Tema”.
I also listened to President Saakashvili’s speech in which he advised the personnel of Adjara TV to be careful when speaking. I am afraid that the current government of Georgia thinks that the truth is only on their side, and therefore sees no reason why it should ever be criticized.