Georgia media freedom at risk – Human Rights Watch
The ownership dispute over Georgia’s most-watched television broadcaster, Rustavi 2, has sparked serious concerns about potential government interference with both media and the judiciary, Human Rights Watch said in a special statement headlined “Georgia: Media Freedom at Risk”.
It said Rustavi 2’s current leadership, the political opposition, and many independent groups saw the lawsuit by the TV’s former owner seeking to retake ownership as a government-orchestrated move to take over the opposition-minded station.
“The entire process of contesting Rustavi 2’s ownership threatens media freedom and judicial independence and demands further scrutiny,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “A government-favored change in the editorial policy of Rustavi 2 would deliver a serious blow to Georgia’s media pluralism and could significantly limit the public’s access to opposition views.”
As a possible sign of a deteriorating media landscape, HRW pointed at the suspension of political talk shows on Imedi, the second most popular TV in Georgia, and on the Public Broadcaster.
On March 2, 2017, the grand chamber of Georgia’s supreme court ruled that Rustavi-2 be handed back to its former owner Kibar Khalvashi, a businessman who owned it between 2004 and 2006, and who alleged he had been strong-armed into selling the station at below market value by then-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
On March 3, in an unprecedented move, the European Court for Human Rights instructed the Georgian government to suspend the enforcement of the supreme court’s ruling until March 8, the day it decides whether or not it will take up the case.