Editorial | The Georgian government’s year-long venture to tame Adjara TV is about to succeed

6 March 2020
Illustration: Dato Parulava/OC Media

In Georgia’s polarised media landscape, Adjara TV stands out as one of only a few unbiased national broadcasters. But after facing a barrage of criticism from the government and a series of firings and ‘reorganisations’ spearheaded by people appointed by Georgian Dream — that may be about to change.

Last Friday, the management of Georgia’s Adjara TV and Radio fired their head of news, Shorena Glonti. 

Glonti’s dismissal is the latest in a series of firings at the public broadcaster of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, since its Board of Advisors, now dominated by members nominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party, impeached Director Natia Kapanadze last April.

Natia Kapanadze removed her hearing aid before delivering this harsh critique of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the head of the...

Posted by OC Media on Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Natia Kapanadze removed her hearing aid before delivering this scathing critique of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party. She said she had to sacrifice her health, including her hearing, fighting for Adjara TV’s editorial independence.

In a country where political polarisation dominates the airwaves, Adjara TV has remained one of the most unbiased sources of information. 

During the last national elections, the OSCE hailed the channel, which broadcasts nationally, 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, Adjara TV ‘has been transformed… into an unbiased broadcaster’.

What is happening to Adjara TV has already happened to the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB). After Vasil Maghlaperidze was appointed head of the GPB in December 2016, the channel clearly toned down its criticism of the government. 

Maghlaperidze clearly had links with Georgian Dream as he previously headed party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili’s GDS television. He went on to bring a number of GDS journalists to GPB and despite promises the channel would have a critical news policy, the result was unavoidable. 

This pattern continues at Adjara TV. Now, less than eight months before parliamentary elections, news staff at the channel say they are under direct attack. 

In November, Giorgi Kokhreidze, who has openly expressed disapproval over the channel’s critical questions to the government, took over.

One of his first moves as director was to fire the news producer, Natia Shavadze. Then, under a ‘reorganisation’ of the channel launched last month, Kokhreidze stripped key news division managers, including deputy director Natia Zoidze and the news editor Maia Merkviladze, of their powers to oversee editorial policy. 

Zoidze ultimately resigned in protest, leading Reporters Without Borders to issue a stark warning against this ‘latest example of political pressure undermining media pluralism and free speech in Georgia’.

These decisions by Kokhreidze and the Board of Advisors have proved right fears that the new management is seeking to defang the channel’s independent editorial policy. 

In February, before the staff changes, Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria expressed ‘doubts’ that these were directed at 'changing the editorial policy of the critical media outlet' and called on the Board of Advisors to revisit their plans, but to no avail. 

Suspicions of a political takeover have been heightened by a barrage of criticism directed towards the channel from Kokhreidze and Georgian Dream party officials.

Adjara TV’s news program staff holding a ‘minute of silence’ on-air protest of pressure on editorial policy on 28 February. Video: Adjara TV

In November, Kokhreidze blamed news anchor Teona Bakuridze for regional government officials avoiding her show, even raising his voice at her live on air. 

‘If someone doesn't come to your show, who's to blame — you or someone else?’, Kokhreidze asked.

A week earlier, Georgian Dream’s Executive Secretary, Irakli Kobakhidze, called on Bakuridze to ‘distance herself’ from the opposition United National Movement party. The same allegation was previously voiced by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who also called a reporter ‘rude’ for asking a question.

The Georgian public, Georgia’s foreign partners, and international watchdogs need to step up their efforts against the latest blatant attempts to control editorial policy of a publicly-funded channel. 

Adjara TV has done nothing but offer viewers independent coverage of regional and national developments, holding the government accountable — as they should. As polarisation grows in the Georgian TV media market, it is more important than ever to keep it that way. 

As most popular TV channels in Georgia push the policies of one of the two dominant political parties, unbiased reporting is slowly fading. The focus on the battle between these two political forces distracts from the country’s most important problems. 

The disappearance of a critical voice in Adjara TV would take away yet another avenue for Georgian audiences to focus on what matters and to make informed decisions in the 2020 parliamentary election and beyond.

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