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The vice-president and Editor-in-Chief of RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) Nenad Pejić has confirmed that the outlet had been considering partnering with Rustavi 2 TV, but that they no longer are. Pejić arrived in Georgia on 8 February and spoke with a number of local NGOs, after several organisations signed an open letter calling for answers. They had been concerned over reports that RFE/RL was pressuring its Georgian service, Radio Tavisupleba, to cooperate with the Rustavi 2.
The head of Radio Tavisupleba, Davit Kakabadze, was fired in January, according to him ‘due to a disagreement with the central management’, after which bureau chief Marina Vashakmadze resigned in protest.
There had been prior reports that RFE/RL’s central management has been pushing the bureau to affiliate with opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2.
RFE/RL is a US government-funded broadcasting organisation based in Prague with branches across Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.
In a closed meeting with the organisations, Pejić assured attendees that Radio Tavisupleba’s editorial policy will not change, the head of the Journalism Resource Centre Natia Kuprashvili told Liberali.
‘The vice-president said they want to have a wider reach and better results, which is very logical from the management. He did not speak about firing anyone from the staff. Quite to the contrary, that it’s important to improve their work, train them, and achieve better results’, said Kuprashvili.
According to her, Pejić said cooperation with Adjara TV to air Radio Tavisupleba’s programmes will continue. The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) earlier dropped two joint programmes with Radio Tavisupleba, one of which, Gogi Gvakharia’s ‘Anareklebi’, has already began airing on Adjara TV.
Pejić confirmed that Salome Asatiani’s ‘Interview’ still has the support of the head office, but is on hold due to ‘technical issues’.
The new management of Radio Tavisupleba will reportedly be selected through an open call.
Staff ‘united in support’
In mid-January, website BBG Watch, whose stated aim is to ‘restore good management and sharp news focus to taxpayer-funded American media outreach abroad’, published an article citing ‘multiple’ unnamed sources claiming that RFE/RL’s senior management was pressuring Radio Tavisupleba to ‘affiliate with’ Rustavi 2.
They claimed Radio Tavisupleba had been resistant to the move, arguing it would lead to a loss of credibility in Georgia because Rustavi 2 is ‘perceived by many Georgians as being under the influence of the former ruling party, the United National Movement’ and its leader Mikheil Saakashvili.
BBG Watch reported that staff at Radio Tavisupleba had been united in support behind Kakabadze.
Radio Tavisupleba issued a statement on another Georgian new site, Netgazeti, on 25 January, in which they claimed Radio Tavisupleba and RFE/RL’s central management could not agree on ‘alternate TV partners’ after GPB stopped airing their shows. This, according to the statement, caused ‘severe controversy’ between Kakabadze and Pejić.
The statement said that when plans to fire Kakabadze were revealed, the whole staff protested in a letter to President and CEO of RFE/RL, Tom Kent.
Kakabadze told Georgian news site On.ge on 30 January that ‘unfortunately, the particular people who are heading the radio now do not like it when they are opposed’. He had worked at Radio Tavisupleba for 25 years, serving as director since 2005.
[Read more about disagreement between RFE/RL and the head of its Georgian Service on OC Media: RFE/RL fires Georgian head for ‘refusing to work with Rustavi 2’]