The heads of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and state telecommunications regulator and head of PR for Georgian Dream have been accused of conspiring to select a member of GPB’s board of trustees. The three were photographed in a bar by a member of the opposition European Georgia, who claims to have overheard the discussion.
The term of office of four out of nine members of GPB’s board of trustees is due to expire this Spring. Their replacements will be chosen by parliament, the Supreme Council of Adjara, and the opposition.
Tamara Kakabadze, a member of the opposition European Georgia party, claimed in a 4 March interview with Rustavi 2 that she witnessed a ‘secret meeting’ where candidates for the board were discussed.
According to her, the heads of GPB and the state telecommunications regulator, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), met with the PR head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, along with the founder of the government-leaning online channel POSTV. The meeting took place at the end January in a cafe in Tbilisi, according to her.
A picture provided by Kakabadze to Rustavi 2 shows GPB’s general director, Vasil Maghlaperidze, Kakha Bekauri, the head of the GNCC, and Mako Bigvava, the head of communications at Georgian Dream. The face of another person in the back cannot be seen, but Kakabadze claimed this was POSTV’s founder Lasha Natsvlishvili. Natsvlishvili served as First Deputy Chief Prosecutor under Georgian Dream.
Kakabadze claimed to have overheard Maghlaperidze and the others suggesting Zaza Shatirishvili, an anchor at GPB and POSTV, be shortlisted for the board of trustees.
According to Kakabadze, the group feared that some in Georgian Dream, who they called ‘Kaladze’s wing’, may oppose Shatirishvili’s nomination. Kakha Kaladze was elected Mayor of Tbilisi in October 2017.
She quoted GPB’s head Maghlaperidze as saying that Shatirishvili was ‘on our team’.
‘Conflict of interest’
Shatirishvili was confirmed as taking part in the contest by Parliament on 4 March.
European Georgia said Maghlaperidze has a conflict of interest when discussing who should be appointed a trustee, as the board has the power to fire the General Director.
Otar Kakhidze, the leader of the European Georgia, accused the group of trying to promote a ‘candidate who favours Bidzina Ivanishvili’. Ivanishvili, Georgia’s billionaire former Prime Minister, has been accused of exerting control over the government from behind the scenes.
Rights Group the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association wrote in a 5 March statement that the law on broadcasting prevents Bekauri, the head of the GNCC, from being involving in the process of selecting members of the board.
Bekauri and Maghlaperidze initially denied to Rustavi 2 that the meeting took place. After the photos were released, Bekauri told them that he ‘may have met a lot of people’, including Maghlaperidze, but insisted he had not discussed the board nominations.
Maghlaperidze told Rustavi 2 ‘even if I wanted to, how can I lobby’ [for Shatirishvili].
Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze said the Rustavi 2 story was ‘not convincing’, and speculated that ‘someone wants somebody blocked’. Parliament wants to ‘resurrect’ the public broadcaster, he added.
In February, more than 70 NGOs and prominent cultural figures called for GPB head Maghlaperidze’s resignation, as part of a plan to ‘resolve the crisis’ in GPB.
Fourteen people have been shortlisted for the upcoming positions on GPB’s board. Parliament, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, and the opposition, will endorse three each of these before a special commission makes the final decision.
The commission, consisting of nine prominent media and cultural figures, is appointed by parliament, and must select two nominees which were chosen by Parliament, one by Adjara’s Supreme Council, and another by the opposition.
[Read on OC Media: Calls for resignation of head of Georgian Public Broadcaster]