Georgian revenue service probes opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV Channel
The Georgian revenue service has begun an investigation into the advertisement company of the opposition-minded Mtavari Arkhi TV Channel. The founder of the TV channel, Nika Gvamaria believes the ongoing investigation is a way of government to pressure the independent media. The authorities are not yet ready for a full-scale attack on the independent have not yet decided to launch an open attack on journalists, but are already trying to influence their marketing service, Gvamaria believes.
“Even if in the end no violations are found, it will be possible, for example, to seal something and deprive us of our income. I say bluntly that there are no violations there. We pay taxes”, said Nika Gvaramia, CEO and founder of Mtavari Arkhi.
Mtavari Arkhi is one of the main independent media outlets in Georgia. Recently, it entered a phase of open confrontation with the authorities and joined a large-scale protest movement led by journalists sparked by the death of the cameraman of another independent TV company – TV Pirveli, who died after being beaten by a crowd of radicals on July 5.
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Accusations against the opposition media have recently been voiced by the chairman of the parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze. On July 15, he announced that three independent Georgian TV channels – Mtavari, Formula, and TV Pirveli – work for “black money”:
“Since 2012, millions of dollars have been invested in these party-owned channels, channels belonging to the National Movement. This is black money”, Kobakhidze said, speaking on the air of the Rustavi-2 TV company and added that the situation should be “investigated”.
The goal of the authorities is to silence Mtavari, says Nika Gvaramia. He considers Kobakhidze’s statement to be the actual announcement of today’s events:
“He gave the order, now they are following it”.
Mtavari Arkhi lawyer Tamta Muradashvili agrees with him:
“Organizing this kind of probe during the pre-election period is creating considerable problems for an independent TV channel because advertising revenue is its only income. The revenue service which is now checking our source of income is really making our life difficult”
.JAMnews contacted the revenue service of the Ministry of Finance to find out the purpose of the ongoing investigation. The press service told us that they were preparing an official statement.
Mtavari was founded by Nika Gvaramia, the former CEO of Rustavi-2. The channel began broadcasting about three years ago, on September 9, 2019.
Mtavari is the successor to the opposition television channel Rustavi-2, which the authorities managed to take control of in the summer of 2019. After the decision of the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights, this channel was passed into the hands of businessman Kibar Khalvashi – the government’s close ally. He argued that Rustavi-2 was taken away from him in 2006 (then the country was ruled by the team of President Mikheil Saakashvili).
Soon after the court’s decision in favor of Khalvashi, he fired director Nika Gvaramia, and then journalists of popular political and entertainment talk shows, the head of the news service, and producers.
The layoffs were followed by a protest from journalists after which the news release team left Rustavi 2 and founded Mtavari.