The ruling Georgian Dream party has begun to attack independent media holding Palitra Media, accusing them, without evidence, of being financed by opposition-linked figure Davit Kezerashvili.
Palitra Media includes TV channel and online news portal PalitraNews, radio station Palitra, and publishing house Palitra L. The news agency InterPressNews, also owned by Palitra Media, is a key independent source on political developments in Georgia.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze questioned Palitra Media’s independence and financial sources, implying that the organisation was under the control of Davit Kezerashvili, who owns opposition-aligned TV channel Formula.
The ruling party chair initially stated that he had no information about Palitra Media’s finances, before stating that ‘it may be that I do have [information], but cannot go into details’.
‘One thing is clear’, Kobakhidze continued, ‘during the last two to three months, this television [channel] became very similar to Kezerashvili’s other television [channel], Formula. It has become a sort of Formula 2. This is my observation’.
Mamuka Mdinaradze, the parliamentary majority leader, voiced a similar — albeit somewhat softer — sentiment the same day.
'I may not be able to accuse everyone [at Palitra Media] of this, but several of their representatives have leaned strongly towards a trend and narrative aligned with the messages of the [opposition United] National Movement [party]’, Mdinaradze announced.
The ruling party’s allegations came days after Georgia’s Court of Appeals upheld a conviction against Kezerashvili for embezzling €5 million ($5.2 million) in 2008, while he was serving as Georgia’s Defence Minister. The ruling has fed fears that Formula, an opposition-aligned TV company that Kezerashvili founded in 2019, could face foreclosure.
A day before Kobakhidze’s comments, pro-government online outlet ONGO reported that Kezerashvili had started financing Palitra ‘several months earlier’.
According to Georgia’s public registry, ownership of Palitra Media is split 75-25 by its founders Irakli Tevdorashvili, who also manages the company, and Zaza Buadze.
While PalitraNews was, in recent years, one of the few non-government-aligned outlets that Georgian Dream politicians engaged with, it appears to have joined the list of channels that Georgian Dream leaders have chosen to boycott for belonging to the ‘radical opposition’; the ruling party’s representatives have been conspicuously absent from PalitraNews shows in recent weeks.
On 29 March, the Georgian Media Advocacy Coalition and over 15 civil groups put out statements in which they condemned pressure on Palitra. The statement by the rights groups described the ruling party’s allegations as being part of ‘an open and undisguised campaign to discredit independent media outlets, civil society organisations, and any group that is not directly dependent on Georgian Dream’.
The source of the allegations appears to be obscure local media outlet ONGO.
Citing an unnamed source from the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party, ONGO alleged in their ‘exclusive’ news on Monday that Davit Kezerashvili, currently based in the UK, struck the deal with Palitra Media in return for gaining editorial control over their news reporting.
ONGO also alleged that Kezerashvili’s brother-in-law, Dimitri Chikovani, had acted as an intermediary between the parties and facilitated the financial transactions.
ONGO have published a number of unverified reports making allegations about opposition and opposition-aligned figures, with some of these reports later shared by a network of pro-government media, anonymous Facebook pages, and pro-government TV channels, including POSTV and Imedi.
Georgian Dream leaders have frequently commented on the reports, so beginning public conversations around the allegations.
In May 2021, ONGO reported that Kezerashvili was financing recently resigned former Prime Minister and former Georgian Dream ally Giorgi Gakharia, an allegation that was later relayed by pro-government TV channels Imedi and POSTV, and a network of news agencies similar to ONGO.
As in this case, the pro-government media reporting the allegations offered no proof to support them.