New owner of opposition tv channel Rustavi 2 begins firing top journalists, anchors
The new general director of opposition-minded television channel Rustavi 2, Paata Salia, has begun firing personnel en masse.
Salia fired the head of the information service of the television company Nodar Meladze, as well as several leading journalists and producers of the channel yesterday.
The anchor of a political talk show Eka Kvesitadze, the anchor of entertainment programme Nanuka’s Show Nanuka Jorjoliani, the producer of political programmes Giorgi Laperashvili, and the now infamous Giorgi Gabunia, the author of the social and political programme Post Scriptum, who cursed at Russian President Vladimir Putin during a live show.
At a press conference, Salia said the reason for the dismissal of The journalists was a “conflict of interest”, and that the journalists fired make statements on social media which contradict the charter of Rustavi 2. Salia claimed they are supporting and taking part in the creation of a new channel announced by former director general of Rustavi 2, Nika Gvaramia.
“These people are not interested in ‘Rustavi 2’, they want a specific person to manage the channel – [former president] Mikheil Saakashvili,” Salia said.
Later, on the evening of the same day at 21:00, when the main news programme Kurieri began, anchors Diana Jojua and Misha Sesiashvili said goodbye to viewers and said that they were leaving the television company.
In her emotional statement, Diana Jojua, who had worked as the host of Kurieri for 13 years, stated that she could not stay on a TV channel that belonged to Bidzina Ivanishvili:
“I wish everyone success, including those who still think that they will be able to maintain their freedom on the Ivanishvili Bidzina TV channel. I, Diana Jojua, who was expelled by the Kremlin from Abkhazia, cannot sit on the air of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the main Kremlin employee in this country. Today I have to say goodbye to you. We fought, but today Ivanishvili finally occupied the TV channel”, she said.
A European Court of Human Rights ruling back in mid-July effectively allowed for the transfer of 100% of the shares of Rustavi 2 to businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who is close to the current ruling party.
Khalvashi claims that he was robbed of the channel under former president Saakashvili.
On the very first day, Khalvashi fired director general Nika Gvaramia, who had managed the channel for seven years. In his place, Khalvashi appointed his lawyer Paata Salia.
Rustavi 2 was the most ardent critic of the current Georgian authorities, the ruling Georgian Dream party and its leader, the informal ruler of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
In various interviews, Ivanishvili repeatedly called Rustavi 2 “the machine of lies” and “party TV channel of the [United National Movement of Saakashvili]”.
He said that Rustavi 2 was holding a part of society hostage and deceiving the public, but that this would soon come to an end.
Despite the fact that Salia and Khalvashi promised not to touch the editorial policy of the channel and not to dismiss the journalists, a month after the verdict of the court, they nevertheless began firing journalists from the channel.
Media experts say that new personnel will be selected based on their loyalty to the authorities, and that Rustavi 2 will cease to be a critical television channel.
Less than a month after the ECHR ruling, Khalvashi announced that he would sell the TV company, since the channel had accumulated debt under its former director.
Khalvashi put the channel on auction for one week, but no buyers came forward.
Gvaramia’s response – ‘Main Channel’
Meanwhile, former head of Rustavi Nika Gvaramia has announced the upcoming launch of a new opposition TV channel.
Mtavari arkhi [Geo. Main channel] has already received the right to broadcast. The channel’s main ambition is to become the main opposition channel of the country.
Gvaramia himself will own 51% of the company, while 49% will go to Kakhaber Anjaparidze.
In addition, the document noted that Guaramia is also the channel’s general director.
“And thus, ‘Main channel’ has been founded. Soon you will learn about its investors, headquarters, frequency, and – I’m really relying on you – even the account number [of the company], for which even one lari sent by you will help us and will be an investment in the pro-Western and democratic future of Georgia. We’ll be on the air very soon! Sooner than you think!”, Gvaramia wrote on his Facebook.
Gvaramia has already responded to the decision of the new Rustavi 2 general director to dismiss employees and invited them to work at Main Channel. He also urged other employees to leave Rustavi 2.
Political observers are so far cautiously looking at the prospects of the new TV channel – it is not yet clear from where Gvaramia will receive the huge finances needed to create a television company that will compete with the most successful Georgian television brand, Rustavi 2.
In addition to the television company announced by Nika Gvaramia, it was recently announced that another TV company will appear on the air – Formula.
The channel will being to company Formula Creative and former minister of defence, David Kezerashvili.
One of the most popular TV shows in Georgia, My Wife’s Girlfriends, belongs to Formula Creative, and used to be broadcast on Rustavi 2.
However, the since the channel’s change of ownership, the company management stopped working with the channel and announced they would create their own.
One of the main goals of the new television channel is to fight against growing Russian propaganda.
Former Minister of Defence David Kezerashvili will finance the new channel in addition to other investors.