Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has called on the international community to ‘assess’ a vulgar rant against Russian President Vladimir Putin aired on opposition-leaning TV station Rustavi 2.
On 7 July, Rustavi 2 anchor Giorgi Gabunia opened his weekly Postscriptum politics show with a minute-long profanity-laden tirade against the Russian president.
‘You’re a stinky occupier […] Go fuck yourself together with your slaves. Fuck your mummy. Oh, your mum is dead? Oh, it’s so sad; no way. Let her burn in hell together with you and your father! I’d shit on your graves. Amen’, Gabunia said, among other things.
The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the broadcast calling it a ‘provocation’ and urged the international community and ‘all international organisations working on freedom of the press’ to ‘assess’ the journalist’s professional standards.
The ministry also called the tirade a ‘deliberate action’ to destabilise the country on the backdrop of ‘attempts at de-escalation’ of tensions with Russia.
[Read more about the anti-Russia protests in Tbilisi and Russia’s reaction: Protesters in Tbilisi march to Ivanishvili’s residence to ‘interrupt his sleep’]
According to Kornely Kakachia, director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, a think-tank, ‘what Gabunia said defies all standards but the reaction the Georgian Government had on all levels is absolutely unacceptable and underlines once more the old problem of the [ruling] political party and the government structures being excessively entangled’.
Speaking to OC Media, Kakachia said that ‘the government overreacted, especially the Foreign Ministry, which rarely puts out a statement in the middle of the night like that’.
He doubted the scandal would effect Georgia-Russian relations, noting that too much emphasis was sometimes put on interpersonal relationships.
‘What defines Russian-Georgian relations is both countries’ diverging foreign policy outlooks and how each sees its own role in the region, less so what individuals do’, Kakachia said.
Protest in front of Rustavi 2
At around 2:20 on Monday morning, Rustavi 2 stopped broadcasting after protesters gathered outside their studio.
The station’s director, Nika Gvaramia, said the blackout would remain in place until their journalists were no longer under the threat of violence. He said the rally outside their offices was not ‘spontaneous’.
The channel resumed broadcasting at around 08:00 in the morning.
Despite distancing himself from Gabunia’s choice of words ‘but not the content’ of his message, Gvaramia also said before stopping the broadcasting that the anchor’s ‘mistake’ still shed a light on the Georgian government’s ‘pro-Putin’ sympathies.
Protesters started gathering in front of Rustavi 2’s office at around midnight. They condemned Gabunia’s ‘provocative’ statements, while some demanded the TV channel be shut down and others called on Gabunia and Gvaramia to leave the country. Some also threw eggs at the building.
Protesters also called on the authorities to open a criminal investigation into Rustavi 2.
Soon after the TV channel went off the air, the Interior Ministry put out a statement saying they were present at the scene protecting public order and the security of Rustavi 2’s staff.
Gabunia was formally reprimanded by Rustavi 2 in March 2018 for an on-air joke involving Jesus Christ that critics, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, deemed offensive.
The far-right March of Georgians group picketed the entrance of Rustavi 2. Six protesters were arrested on charges of hooliganism after some of them attacked three journalists. Gabunia was not among them.
A ‘harsh response’
Soon after Gabunia’s show ended, Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze called his monologue a ‘disgusting act of provocation’ aiming to destabilise Georgia.
Whatever we have observed today on Rustavi2 is nothing but disgusting act of provocation and an attempt to destabilize our country. Something that is totally unacceptable!
— Mamuka Bakhtadze (@BakhtadzeMamuka) July 7, 2019
Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor and the ruling party’s General Secretary went further, suggesting that the ‘provocation’ needed a ‘harsh answer’ from them. He did not elaborate further.
Media advocacy group the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics warned that such ‘unethical statements’ as Gabunia’s would encourage the government to clamp down on media freedoms and freedom of expression in Georgia.
Georgian media expert Zviad Koridze shared this sentiment, warning the government against going further than condemnation and leaving the matter to the self-regulatory mechanisms currently in place.
Kaladze made another statement closer to the dawn saying that the Georgian Dream government had no plans to limit media freedom, calling rumours to the contrary and Rustavi 2 going off the air attempts at creating ‘artificial drama’.
He said that limiting the media was what the previous government of the United National Movement Party did when they were in power.