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Nightmare about Regional TV-Stations

November 3, 2009

Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti

In 2009, almost every influential international organization speaks in their reports about worsened media situation in Georgia. According to the recent report of the Freedom House Georgia is one of those 18 states where the situation in the field of democracy has worsened. Furthermore, after 2003 the indexes of democracy in Georgia have fallen to the lowest level. Nevertheless, president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili said in his interview with the “Connect the World” of the CNN, there are 27 independent TV-channels in Georgia. He said TV-companies have political talk-shows where every political organization can express it opinion openly.

According to the National Communication Commission of Georgia, 45 TV-stations are registered in Georgia. Public Broadcasting and Adjara Television are not on this list. Among national televisions which broadcast in entire Georgia only Rustavi 2 has political talk-show “Position” whose presenter is journalist Nino Shubladze. It is aired once a week on Friday. The founders of the TV-Company “Rustavi 2” are– Industrial Group of Georgia Limited, with 30 % and Degson Limited with 70 % of the company. The latter is registered on Virginia Islands. Georgian Media Production Group Ltd is also registered on the same island which owns 100 % of the TV-Company Imedi.

Analytic Mathias Hugter from the Transparency International – Georgia, who carried out a survey on media-owners in Georgia, said he had never seen similar fabrication anywhere else that he saw in Georgia.

“Neither in Europe nor in the West had I ever encountered with the fact when the owners of the biggest and national-wide TV-Companies were registered in Britain or Virginia Islands and have address where only mail-box is fixed only. There is not a normative act to prevent similar violation in Europe either because similar fabrication does not happen anywhere else,” said the foreign analytic.

TV-companies “Kavkasia” and “Maestro” have political talk-shows. Nobody is restricted to express different opinion in those TV-Companies. However, the problem is that “Kavkasia” and “Maestro” are broadcasting only in Tbilisi. Cable TV-channels broadcasted the programs of “Maestro” in the regions but during protest rallies in spring, when Maestro was broadcasting the rallies on-live in Rustavi and Akhmeta districts, cable TV-channels ceased broadcasting of Maestro. The owners of the local TV-Channels said the reason was bad weather and technical problems. However, 7 months have passed since then and broadcasting of the programs of “Maestro” was not resumed yet. Nanuka Ghlonti, director of “Maestro” said the cable TV-Channels decided to cease broadcasting of their programs because the administrations of the companies were oppressed by law enforcement officials.

President meant regional TV-Companies among those 27 TV-stations. According to the list of TV-companies provided by the GCC only one company belongs to the state. The document states that Akhmeta TV-station was founded by the Akhmeta district administration and they are owner of 100 % of it.

Lagodekhi based TV-Station is legally independent, whose owner is “Ekomi, Ltd”; however it is funded by the municipality budget. Independence of the Lagodekhi TV-station is directly connected with the sources of the finances. Only local authority manages state budget and funds the media organization only if the latter works in its favor.

News programs of the regional TV-station “Gurjaani” is not different from the news-programs of the Lagodekhi TV-station. The founder of the TV-Company “Gurjaani” is a private person Tamar Abelashvili; however, her TV-station is also funded from the district budget. Gurjaani district administration pays 24 000 GEL a year to the TV-station “Gurjaani” for advertisements. According to the head of news room Zviad Ruadze, despite advertising service for the local authority, the editorial policy of the TV-station is independent. It must be noted, that Gurjaani TV-station prepares TV-items funded by the district administration but they are not ads at all. TV-station has two talk-shows too. Both projects are funded by donor organizations, though the level of independence it too low. Both of them cover only local problems. They do not discuss facts of corruption and human rights violations in the region which are connected with high-ranking officials. “There are topics which we prefer not to discuss. We cover those problems too but not very acutely,” said director of the TV-station “Gurjaani” Tamar Abelashvili. Studio “Monitor” gave several documentary films on human rights violations to the TV-station but the company did not show journalist investigations.

There are two more TV-stations in Kakheti region. 50% of the Sagarejo district TV-station “Tvali” belongs to private person Tamar Kurdovanidze.

Kurdovanidze is mother of the current head of Olympic Committee of Georgia and former Kakheti regional governor Gia Natsvlishvili. Besides that, Kurdovanidze is head of the Sagarejo district organization of the National Movement, the ruling party. Now, Sagarejo TV-station is transmitting programs of the “Rustavi 2”. They have not prepared their own programs for several months already. As for the Telavi based TV-station, although “Tanamgzavri” is not funded by local budget, it does not pay attention to the facts of corruption and human rights violation.

Unlike Kakheti region, in other regions of Georgia owners of the TV-stations are closely connected to the authority. For example, local TV-station “Trialeti” in Shida Kartli region belongs to the brothers Jondo and Badri Nanetashvilis. Former MP Badri Nanetashvili is Shida Kartli deputy regional governor; director general of the Kutaisi based (Imereti region) TV-station Rioni Tamar Ghvinianidze is chairwoman of the association of regional broadcasting companies and member of the political bureau of the National Movement. Like Trialeti, “Rioni” is also funded from local budget. There is one more TV-station in Imereti Region “Mega-TV” which also belongs to the member of the National Movement and single mandate MP from Kutaisi Akaki Bobokhidze. One of the owners of the Samegrelo region based TV-station “Odishi” is Zugdidi district governor Aleksandre Kobalia. 40% of the Zemo Kartli region based TV-station “Borjomi” belongs to the family of Tristan Tsutskiridze and Marina Kupatadze. Tsutskiridze is chairperson of the Borjomi municipality board and his wife Marina Kupatadze is director of the TV-station “Borjomi”. According to the GCC, TV-station “Specter” is registered in Akhaltsikhe which was founded by Giorgi Meskheli – brother of the deputy minister of internal affairs of Georgia Amiran Meskheli; Zurab Chilingarashvili – head of Tax Inspection of Samtskhe-Javakheti region; Gevork Sagoyan – head of patrol police department in Samtkhe-Javakheti region and Ivane Merabishvili, minister of internal affairs of Georgia.

Among regional TV-companies Adjara based TV-Channel 25th is the most independent and it hardly survived from being sold by the Ministry of Finances. Department of Revenues of Adjara Autonomous Republic demand the TV-station to pay the debts accumulated during the governance of Aslan Abashidze; the debt amounts to 277 547 GEL. This debt was accumulated when the TV-station was seized from the owners and the people close to Aslan Abashidze governed it. According to the court decision, the bank accounts of the TV-station were sequestered for some time and the company stopped working. Ministry of Finances removed the sequestration from the accounts only after representatives of the media and civil society organizations held protest rally in Tbilisi and regions of Georgia. Kakha Baindurashvili, Minister of Finances, said the Ministry is ready to restructure the debt. The TV-station admits it has only 70 000 GEL debt to the budget which was accumulated only in 2006-2009 as the founder of the company Merab Merkviladze claims.