President Saakashvili has imposed a state of emergency throughout the country for 15 days, Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze announced at 1 am local time on November 8.
Restrictions, he said, would be imposed on the dissemination of information, demonstrations and strikes.
As a result, news programs on all private television stations will be banned for 15 days. The publicly-funded Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) will be the only station allowed to provide news coverage.
The presidential decree implies, Arveladze said, “a freeze on the gathering and free dissemination of information in written or verbal forms.”
“This only refers to TV and radio stations,” Arveladze specified. “Gathering and disseminating information will only be conducted by the Georgian Public Broadcaster.”
Newspapers and online media sources are exempt from the measure.
Parliament has to convene within the next 48 hours to approve the presidential decree, which, in the meantime, remains in force.
Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli had a few hours before the decree was issues suggested that emergency rule would be restricted to the capital. It actually covers the entire country.
Prior to the prime minister's announcement two TV channels, Imedi and Kavkasia, - both seen as pro-opposition - were put off the air. Other TV stations continued providing extensive coverage of on-going events, but after Economy Minister Giorgi Arveladze’s statement, even they were forced to halt their coverage. Rustavi 2 TV’s news program anchor announced: “We have to cease our program now and hope to see you again in 15 days.”
All private TV companies, except for Imedi and Kavkasia, continue to broadcast, but crucially, without any news coverage.
Both Imedi and Kavkasia stations were closed shortly after President Saakashvili accused Russia and "some" political parties in Georgia of instigating unrest in Tbilisi. Both television stations had been providing extensive coverage of the opposition protest rallies.
Imedi TV went off air a few minutes after an anchor told viewers in a live broadcast that police had “broken into the television studio.”
“They are now trying to break into this studio,” Giorgi Targamadze, an anchor and chief of Imedi TV’s political programs, said. “I want to say that Imedi has always been the only window through which all of Georgia could view the truth.”
As he spoke noise could be heard from outside the studio; then the lights went off and the camera was switched off. Imedi radio station was also forced off the air and Imedi’s website was inaccessible.
Within minutes, Kavkasia TV station, also seen as pro-opposition, went off the air.
Unlike Imedi TV, Kavkasia is a small television station, with coverage limited to the capital.
Imedi media holding, incorporating the television and radio stations, is co-owned by an anti-government media tycoon, Badri Patarkatsishvili, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Patarkatsishvili recently handed over management rights of his shares in Imedi media holding to News Corp. for a year, after he announced that he was planning to finance the opposition’s protest campaign.
President Saakashvili said in a televised address to the nation that the November 7 unrest in Tbilisi was “planned there [Russia], financed from there and implemented through the help of their friendly oligarchs” – an obvious reference to Patarkatsishvili.
An impromtu rally involving several dozen people living in the neighborhood where Imedi TV is located, happened outside the television station. The protesters chanted: “Imedi,” “Imedi.”
Police officers in masks and carrying assault rifles were seen sealing off Imedi's offices. A scuffle occurred between the protesters and the police. TV footage showed policemen beating a man. Riot police also used tear gas to disperse the protesters outside the offices.
“Emotions are high and it is necessary to prevent politicians from making any remarks that may further escalate tensions,” MP Maia Nadiradze, the leader of the parliamentary majority, said in explanation for the restrictions on news coverage.