Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corporation’s planned investments in the Georgian media should be a positive signal for the country's media market, most observers say.
News Corporation will buy shares of the Georgian media holding company Imedi, which unites the Tbilisi-based television and radio stations owned by tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, Imedi TV reported on April 29.
A preliminary agreement was signed by Rupert Murdoch and Badri Patarkatsishvili in New York on April 28 and finalization of the deal is planned in a few weeks, according to this report.
Imedi TV reported that News Corp will buy “a significant part of the shares” of Imedi Holding “but the details of the deal remain confidential.” Some other Georgian media sources, including Rustavi 2 TV, which is Imedi TV’s major competitor, reported that Badri Patarkatsishvili sold 30% of his shares.
News Corp, which has total annual revenues of approximately USD 24 billion, is the first foreign corporation to invest in the Georgia's media market.
“A decision has been made that Rupert Murdoch’s multinational News Corporation will become Imedi TV and radio Imedi’s partner, which I think is a very significant fact for Georgia, which gives us the possibility to increase [international] interest towards our country. This is one of the most remarkable days of my life and I want to congratulate Georgia and the Imedi staff,” Badri Patarkatsishvili told Imedi television.
Imedi television is among three leading Georgian national broadcasters. The two others are Rustavi 2 TV and the Public Broadcaster, uniting the first and second TV channels and a radio station.
The Public Broadcaster, which is a successor of the State TV and Radio Company, is still in transition and can hardly compete with Imedi and Rustavi 2.
Rustavi 2 TV, which is often accused by opponents of being government-controlled, is Imedi TV’s major competitor. Rustavi 2 is owned by businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who reportedly has close links to Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili. Rustavi 2 TV expanded its broadcasting business after Kibar Khalvashi reportedly bought 78% of the Tbilisi-based Mze television station.
Political analyst and reporter for RFE/RL Georgian service Ia Antadze says that the deal between Imedi TV and News Corp is of “unprecedented importance” for the Georgian media market.
“I think this will be the most important guarantor of freedom of speech… On the other hand this move will help [Patarkatsishvili] to allay pressure from the authorities,” Ia Antadze told Civil Georgia.
In March, influential media and financial tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili unexpectedly unleashed criticism towards the authorities, accusing them of mounting pressure on his television station. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili became gripped by the murder scandal of Sandro Girgvliani after a televised report aired on Imedi alleged in February that the top level officials from the Interior Ministry could have been involved in the crime.
In response, the authorities accused Patarkatsishvili of an attempt “to blackmail the Georgian government” through his media sources in an effort to pursue his business interests.
Levan Ramishvili, who chairs an influential human rights advocacy group Liberty Institute and a long-time critic of Patarkatsishvili, said that the News Corp’s decision to invest in Georgia “is an interesting event.”
“I think it is positive when the influence of Russian-originated oligarchs is decreasing on the Georgian media market,” Levan Ramishvili told Civil Georgia on May 2, but added that Murdoch is also a controversial person, who has often been a target of criticism.
Parliamentarian from the ruling National Movement party Nika Gvaramia noted that News Corp’s decision to invest in Georgia indicates that “things are developing in the right direction in Georgia.”
“And we should expect Georgia’s media sector and business sector will be revived as well,” MP Gvaramia told RFE/RL Georgian service.