"We won’t let them crush us” – 90 journalists go on strike on regional TV channel in Georgia
About 90 public television workers in the Adjara region of Georgia have issued an ultimatum to their management.
Either within 21 days they will return to work several dismissed colleagues, including two heads of the information service, or there will be a large-scale strike.
Among the other requirements of the team are guarantees of editorial independence, respect for labor rights and the formation of a strategic plan for the development of the channel.
Channel reporters associate the layoffs with the new director. According to them, he is a protege of the authorities and was appointed to change the channel’s independent policy and create a loyal media environment in the region ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2020.
Most local and international experts in the country agree with this statement.
Reporters Without Borders said in a special statement that pressure on the media had noticeably increased in Georgia, and that television channels that were critical of the authorities have faced lash back.
This is doubly alarming, given that 70 percent of the Georgian population receives information mainly from television – and only eight months remain before the parliamentary elections, which will determine who will rule the country for the next four years, the Reporters Without Borders statement said.
The role of the mediator in the negotiations between the leadership of the channel and the team was assigned to the Ministry of Labor and Health.
Special operation” of authorities on Achara TV?
The new director of the channel Giorgi Kokhreidze was appointed in November 2019 and immediately began large-scale personnel changes. The staff was unhappy, but the real outrage began when in February 2020 the head of the information service Shoren Glonti and her deputy Maya Merkviladze were fired.
Journalists call the director’s personnel decisions a “special operation”.
“Everyone is afraid of restrictions on freedom of speech, waiting for new dismissals. The working atmosphere at the channel is unhealthy,” the Adjarian television team said in a public statement.
Kokhreidze came to the channel after the supervisory board impeached the long-time leader of Achar TV Natia Kapanadze. She had eight months to complete her contract, but the council did not wait.
The reason was the collapse of the rating of the Public Broadcaster of Adjara.
Not all employees of the channel were satisfied with the style of Kapanadze’s work, but impeachment was regarded as a bad sign not only in Adjara, but also by external observers.
“We hope that the channel will continue to fulfill its most important mission and its independence will be preserved,” then wrote on Twitter the OSCE spokesperson Harlem Désir.
The process of electing a new director initially raised many questions. Kokhreidze got the position only on the fourth attempt, only three out of five members of the supervisory board voted for him. Moreover, these three were from the ruling party Georgian Dream.
The very first comments of the new director regarding the channel’s policy raised even more questions.
For example, during one of the telecasts, the aggressive attitude of some members of the ruling party towards Adjara TV journalists was discussed.
Kokhreidze was asked to comment – and he said that the journalists themselves were to blame. In his opinion, the channel should create such comfortable conditions for the members of the ruling party so that they would like to come to the studio.
As a result, at first, the consultants left the television – reputable journalists Zviad Koridze and Marina Vashakmadze.
Then the first deputy director Natia Zoidze left the Public Broadcaster after the new director dismissed her authority. “I’m not leaving voluntarily,” she said.
“Georgian Dream crushed the TV channel in Adjara under itself. This is a deliberate effort to ensure that there is a channel through the parliamentary elections through which political opponents can be discredited,” said Malkhaz Chkadua, an expert from Transparency International – Georgia.
The Charter of Journalistic Ethics also entrusted the authorities with all responsibility for what is happening on the TV channel.
Reporters Without Borders”: Authorities in Georgia gaining more and more control over the media
The first scandal surrounding independent media occurred in the summer of 2019, when the owners and management changed on the most popular television channel in Georgia – the opposition channel Rustavi 2. Leading producers and journalists left the channel and created a new opposition television channel called Mtavari [Geo. main].
At the same time, another group of journalists created another new opposition television channel Formula.
By this time, practically all the founders, directors and producers of opposition television channels have either had criminal cases opened against them or are constantly summoned to the prosecutor’s office for many hours of interrogation as witnesses.
• A criminal case has been opened against the General Director of Mtavari Nicki Gvaramia, and family members have been monitored.
• The main shareholder of the TV channel Giorgi Rurua is also under investigation on charges of illegal possession and carrying of firearms.
• The father of the founder of the opposition television channel Pirveli, 70-year-old businessman Avtandil Tsereteli, has become a defendant in the sensational case regarding TBC Bank and is regularly summoned for questioning by the prosecutor’s office.
• The directors of the Formula television company were summoned to the prosecutor’s office on October 1, 2019, on the day the channel debuted on air. There, for nine hours he testified regarding the Rustavi 2 television company.