Talks in Maestro TV Row Fail
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 1 Dec.'11 / 23:48

A screengrab from Maestro TV was showing only the television station’s logo when it was off the air for about hour late on December 1.

Maestro TV, one of the two Tbilisi-based TV stations critical to the authorities, suspended broadcasting for about an hour late night on December 1 after lengthy talks between owners and the station’s managing firm failed.

Mamuka Glonti, one of the owners of the TV station who along with some of the staff members was locking himself inside the TV station’s control room since Wednesday morning, announced that he and the staff were leaving the premises in order to “avoid provocation” and possible confrontation with security guard accompanying Erosi Kitsmarishvili, founder of the TV station’s managing firm.

Shortly after the announcement Maestro TV suspended broadcasting; broadcasting signal was back approximately an hour later at about 11:35pm with live footage from a studio of affiliated FM radio station with the same name, Maestro. Since the standoff erupted over the TV station, the radio station served as a platform for airing some of the talk shows.

Glonti’s decision to leave the TV station’s premises came after about six hours of talks with Erosi Kitsmarishvili, which was mediated by representatives from a media advocacy group, which tried to convince the sides in the need of continuing talks at a different venue in order to allow the TV station resume regular programming.

“We had negotiations with Kitsmarishvili, but talks have collapsed. We were ready for a compromise, including to leave the premises if Kitsmarishvili and his companions also left the building, but Kitsmarishvili’s position was ‘all or nothing’,” Glonti said.

He said that there was “a high probability of provocations”, alleging that with tacit backing from the authorities Kitsmarishvili and his companions, purportedly security guard of the managing firm, were intending to force him and staff members out from the premises. Glonti said that in order to avoid such a scenario he and his partners, together with the staff, decided to leave the building and continue working from the office of Maestro radio station.

Kitsmarishvili, who earlier on Thursday warned Glonti to force him out of the control room, said that Glonti’s allegations were utter nonsense, who was “trying to portray himself as a victim and media freedom fighter.” Kitsmarishvili also said that Glonti “snatched” equipment, including TV cameras while leaving the premises. He stressed that under the three-year contract signed with Maestro TV owners on handing over management rights, his firm was in control of the station’s assets.

With the dispute far from being resolved it is not clear when the Maestro TV will be able to resume its regular programming.

Glonti said that the dispute with Kitsmarishvili will most likely now continue in the court. he also said that currently Maestro TV was no longer available via satellite, but attempts were made to resume the TV station’s broadcasting through satellite in the nearest future.

He also said that cutting links with Kitsmarishvili would not cause financial problems for the TV station, because among its owners was Maka Asatiani, who owns 25% of shares. Asatiani is a friend of another co-owner Giorgi Gachechiladze and a wife of a wealthy businessman Kote Gogelia. Gogelia in the past was affiliated with the Georgian Party in which Erosi Kitsmarishvili is a political secretary. Gogelia and Kitsmarishvili, however, parted ways after a conflict recently.

Glonti denied having any talks with billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has expressed his solidarity towards the Maestro TV journalists and condemned Kitsmarishvili’s moves, suggesting that the latter’s decision to move in the Maestro TV station was orchestrated by the authorities.

Kitsmarishvili meanwhile suggested that Glonti and other co-owners of the Maestro TV wanted to sideline him and his managing firm from the TV in order to pave the way for a potential deal with Ivanishvili.

 Nino Zuriashvili, an investigative journalist, who was among representatives of media advocacy group present during the negotiations, said that after lengthy talks an interim agreement between the parties seemed close.

“There was an issue-based negotiation without heated discussions or insults,” Zuriashvili said, adding that at one point when Glonti insisted that he would leave the station’s premises if Kitsmarishvili and his companions did the same, Kitsmarishvili requested “a timeout, left the room in what seemed to me to consult with someone else.” She said that after Kitsmarishvili returned he rejected to leave the premises and after that the talks failed.

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