More than 70 Georgian NGOs and prominent cultural figures have published a plan to ‘resolve the crisis’ in the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB). The 6 point plan includes a call for the resignation of the head of the GPB, Vasil Maghlaperidze.
In a statement published on 9 February, signatories including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, rights group EMC, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, and Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS) expressed concerns over the ‘deep institutional crisis in the GPB’, saying trust in the broadcaster is ‘critically low’ while the cost to taxpayers is increasing annually.
‘Unfortunately, the Public Broadcaster fails to serve the interests of the public, is unable to fulfill its legal role; and acts instead as a media organisation that is in service of political party interests’, the statement says, announcing the launch of ‘a movement for reforming the Public Broadcaster’.
The statement called on the Prime Minister to meet with the group so they could present their demands and opinions, and discuss possible solutions.
The statement also called for the Board of Trustees and the General Director of the GPB to be summoned before Parliament at a public hearing to examine the extent to which the broadcaster is fulfilling its legal obligations.
According to the statement, the GPB has made inconsistent and questionable decisions under Maghlaperidze’s leadership, and thus he must resign.
These decisions concerned ‘a vague plan to reform the broadcaster; implementing a closed staffing policy, whereby journalists from the former Prime Minister’s TV station were employed through uncompetitive procedures; suspicious tenders; failure to fulfill programme priorities; assuming an editorial policy that was loyal towards the government; closing the broadcaster’s European Office, etc.’
The statement demands an external audit be conducted to examine the broadcaster’s work over the past year, as a report by the State Audit Office identified significant financial and managerial transgressions.
The statement calls on parliament not to overrule the President's veto of amendments to the Law on Public Broadcasting, arguing that the ‘amendments initiated by the Public Broadcaster reduce its openness and transparency, increase the risk of corruption, and significantly damage the advertising market’.
Not politically neutral
The GPB has faced mounting pressure since Maghlaperidze took over in December 2016. A number of media rights groups have been critical of his appointment, claiming his background working for former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s GDS television mean he is not politically neutral.
Since then, the broadcaster has been accused of not being critical enough of the government, including when on 20 December, the GPB did not air nor mention the Prime Minister swearing at an opposition leader in parliament.
The GPB also faced criticism for airing video footage of writer Zviad Ratiani being detained by police in late December for ‘disobeying police and petty hooliganism’, which according to the statement was shown out of context in a way that ‘served the interests of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’. Maghlaperidze was reportedly involved in the decision to air the footage.
GPB showed footage of him swearing at Police and at the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which they had requested from the Interior Ministry.
Ratiani claimed his arrest was illegal, but the footage from the Interior Ministry did not show the circumstances leading up to the confrontation.