The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) has decided to temporarily shut down all of its talk-shows in order to ‘fight the crisis’ and remobilise financing to renew the broadcaster. Among the closed talk shows will be Realuri Sivrtse (Real Space); activists and journalists, as well as the sows audience, have opposed the move to shut down the show.
Last week, the Coalition for Media Advocacy, which unites several local organisations, announced that GPB planned to shut down Realuri Sivrtse, which is a talk show discussing ongoing social and political issues from many angles and with various guests. The show is seen by many as an important neutral and independent voice in Georgia’s media landscape, which is otherwise highly polarised.
On 6 February, GPB director Vasil Maglaperidze held a press-conference to introduce a three-year action plan for the struggling broadcaster. He spoke about a number of problems facing GPB saying that the plan is to temporarily halt production of all shows except for Moambe, a news bulletin, until 2018, and to redirect the money to create regional offices, which GPB does not have, and to purchase new equipment and renovate the office in the capital.
According to Maglaperidze, there are too many employees in GPB, with more than 60 percent of expenses going to salaries, and so staffing at the broadcaster needs to be optimised.
‘I want to respond to all the unrest that we plan to fire someone or that we plan to shut down anything’, he said, adding that this is not part of the plan. He insisted that this is temporary period in order to develop the broadcaster.
The plan still needs to be approved by the GPB’s board of directors.
A rally was held on 5 February outside GPB’s offices by activists and supporters of Relauri Sivrtse, together with the staff of the talk-show.
Baia Pataraia, one of the participants of the rally, told OC Media that the talk-show used to dedicate airtime to socially difficult and important issues, that it is crucial to save the show, and that if the show ends it will be a great loss for Georgian media.
‘This is a public broadcaster not a private company, and it’s obligation is to work on social issues. If Vasil Maglaperidze won’t give up and will close the show, this will indicate that Bidzina Ivanishvili wants to pocket one more television station in Georgia’, she said.
Nino Zautashvili, one of the show’s hosts, told OC Media that she had recently met with Maglaperidze and his advisor, Ia Antadze, but they did not confirm to her whether or not the show would close.
‘Shutting down Realuri Sivrtse is muting free speech in society. This is why this show has huge support. We are approached by people, who want to talk about important issues. When a person is in pain and you don’t let them speak about it, this will bring our government bad results’, she said.
Irakli Kupradze, a student from Tbilisi State University, says that students have been cooperating with this show for years, as it actively reported on problems that are usually beyond the attention of other TV channels.
‘The Public Broadcaster exists with our money and so it has to fit with public interests’, he said, adding that if the talk-show closes, people will be left without an independent voice on TV, and will be left with Rustavi 2, Maestro, and GDS on different sides of the political divide.
GPB’s board elected Vasil Maglaperidze as director on 6 January with a majority of votes. One member of the board, Sulkhan Saladze, has claimed that the new director ‘is not politically neutral’ and that he was the worst of the candidates being considered.
He warned that board’s decision has put the objectivity of GPB into question, which will be a challenge the broadcaster will need to adress.
Maglaperidze previously worked as deputy director of Metskhre Arkhi, a TV channel, belonging to former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, in 2012. The channel closed down in August 2013.
From 2014–2016 he worked at GDS, another channel belonging to Ivanishvili’s family.
GPB is financed from the state budget; this year it received ₾46.4 million.