Rustavi 2 TV Case Getting More Twisted
On 12 November, Tbilisi City Court restituted powers to the incumbent administration of the oppositional Rustavi 2 TV company. Thus, the Court annulled its own ruling, dated 5 November, under which the TV channel was transferred to the interim managers. Earlier, on 5 November, the court had ruled on appointment of Rustavi 2 TV interim administration. As a result, Nika Gvaramia, TV Company CEO, as well as Kakha Damenia, the head of the Finance Department, were replaced by the interim administrators. This decision, that the Court, itself, annulled on 12 November, thus leaving Gvaramia on the Director-General’s post, caused great repercussions and criticism on part of the non-governmental organizations and other representatives of the society.
However, Rustavi 2 TV staff does not hasten to rejoice, since they believe, this is ‘another trick’. In Nika Gvaramia’s opinion, it’s up to the Constitutional Court to decide on the case. Rustavi 2TV appealed to the Constitutional Court, demanding recognition as illegitimate of the norm, based on which the interim managers had been appointed by Tbilisi City Court.
’The TV channel will be able to peacefully operate only after the Constitutional Court delivers its judgment, after the final decision on Rustavi 2 TV ownership is made, that could not be appealed, Gvaramia stated.
Representatives of NGOs and many experts term this process as ‘infringement of the freedom of speech and an attempt to silence critical Mass Media ahead of the elections (parliamentary elections in Georgia are due in autumn 2016.
The situation around Rustavi 2 TV company has been changing lightning-fast in the recent few weeks.
On 3 November, the first instance court sustained a lawsuit filed by businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who sought reclamation of the broadcaster. In his words, he was seized the TV company in 2006, under the pressure of the authorities, including personally Mikheil Saakashvili.
Despite the court ruling, Khalvashi cannot immediately regain control over the TV company, since under the Constitutional court ruling, the provision on immediate enforcement of the court ruling has been suspended until the case passes all court instances.
However, Khalvashi’s lawyers have appealed to court demanding the appointment of the TV company’s interim administrators until the case is considered in all court instances.
Condemning the court ruling, Nika Gvaramia said, he would not obey it. ‘I am not going to leave this building. Come and force me out!,’ – Gvaramia said live on air, overnight on 6 November. Gvaramia is no longer entitled to administer the TV company’s affairs, distribute salaries, sign documents etc.
“We are not going to voluntarily leave the TV company,’ Zaal Udumashvili, the news anchor, stated on behalf of all journalists.
Khalvashi and his new managers said at a news conference, they were not going either to change or interfere with the broadcaster’s editorial policy. They also assured, they were not going to enter Rustavi 2 TV building by force.
However, opposition politicians and independent experts believe, the recent developments are nothing but an attempt to silence independent Mass Media.
“This decision destroys the editorial independence of Rustavi 2TV, fundamentally undermines the freedom of media, ruins the media pluralism in the country and has implications of challenging Georgia’s constitutional order and stability. Maintaining Rustavi 2 as a critical TV channel is essential for Georgia’s democracy, especially in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2016, reads a joint statement, released by nine Georgian NGOs.
International community is also actively commenting on the situation.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, said, he was ‘deeply concerned’ over the recent developments around Rustavi-2, according to which, the judge’s decision on appointment of the interim administration came amidst the ongoing dispute on Rustavi 2 TV ownership.
‘The U.S. Embassy is deeply concerned about developments late Thursday night related to Rustavi 2 management and ownership, the U.S. Ambassador said in a written statement, released on 6 November.
“Attempts to change the management of the station, in advance of the appeal process, have profound political implications. In a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced, says Kelly.
“Editorial decisions should be made in news rooms, not court rooms, said Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Attempts by the courts to unduly influence an editorial policy of a media outlet are nothing short of the abuse of the rule of law and democratic foundations in a society. I call on the judiciary to fully respect the right of Rustavi 2 to editorial independence.
Rustavi 2 TV supporters, representatives of the civil public organizations and various opposition parties, gathered in Rustavi 2 TV yard at midnight, after there had been reports about the judge ruling, late on Thursday.
Due to the recent developments, the TV company has been operating in an emergency non-stop mode.
Rustavi 2 TV newsroom