The Georgian parliament has passed legal amendments removing the last vestiges of independence from Adjara’s public broadcaster, subsuming it to the national public broadcaster.
On Friday, MPs from the ruling party adopted amendments to Georgia’s Law on Broadcasting eliminating the Adjara public broadcaster’s advisory board.
Adjara TV, based in the autonomous republic of Adjara in Western Georgia, was once hailed as a bastion of unbiased journalism in the country.
The changes effectively place management of the regional broadcaster — including the right to appoint and fire its director and control its budget and programming priorities — under the board of Georgia’s Public Broadcaster, which is headed by the former deputy chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Vasil Maghlaperidze.
Ajara TV and Adjara’s public radio will now be represented by three members selected by the Adjaran government in the Board of Trustees of Georgia’s Public Broadcaster.
Since its inception, the Ajara Public Broadcaster has had its own five-member Advisory Board as well as one representative at the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
‘Content-wise, Adjara TV has been terminated. It’s a matter of time […] The broadcaster won’t continue the way it was envisioned by [its creators] in 2013’, Gia Kartsivadze, a member of the Advisory Board told Adjara’s TV 25 on 29 June.
Opposition MP Tamar Kordzaia had similarly warned that if the changes were adopted, ‘this will be [Georgia’s] Public Broadcaster’s branch stripped of its rights’.
Kordzaia and several other lawmakers protested against what they said was a rushed process to pass the amendments without going through the proper procedures, stating that axing the advisory board was not included in the original proposal.
A day before the final vote, the amendment was also criticised by Georgia’s Coalition for Media Advocacy, which warned it would cause ‘irreversible damage’.
Speaking with Georgian online outlet Mediachecker, Rati Ionatamishvili, one of the authors of the bill, disputed the criticism and argued instead that expanding the Board of Trustees of Georgia’s Public Broadcaster with two additional members from the Adjara public broadcaster would enhance the regional broadcaster’s independence.
Prior to 2019, Adjara TV was widely hailed as one of a handful of independent and unbiased broadcasters.
Following Georgia’s 2018 presidential elections, the OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission cited Adjara TV as ‘the only TV station that offered viewers a general comparison of contestant platforms’.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics noted in late 2018 that since 2016, the channel had been ‘transformed […] into an unbiased broadcaster’.
The channel’s reputation plummeted after Natia Kapanadze was ousted as its head in early 2019.
Her replacement was widely accused by journalists at the channel of altering editorial policy to promote the ruling Georgian Dream Party, while a number of key figures in the news department were also sacked.