If Imedi TV and radio stations do not resume broadcasting within a week, it will signal that democracy in Georgia is under threat, Adam Michnik, a Polish journalist-activist, said in Tbilisi on December 1 after a series of talks with the Georgian authorities, opposition and journalists.
Michnik, co-founder of the Solidarity movement and now the editor-in-chief of highly respected Gazeta Wyborcza, arrived in Tbilisi on November 29 on, as he put it, his “first diplomatic mission” to help resolve the Imedi impasse on behalf of the European Union.
“I arrived here, listened to everybody, talked and now I am leaving Georgia with hope,” he said at a news conference. “Talks with the authorities were not easy, they were quite tense and difficult, ...[and] I am not quite sure what will be the outcome of these conversations.”
“As far as I understood you will be able to watch programs on Imedi TV after a week,” Michnik said. “I have heard from very key and senior Georgian officials that positive changes are expected from Monday… And these talks give me optimistic prospects.”
He warned, however: “If Imedi is not reopened after a week I will have to state through all possible media outlets in the world – and I have these possibilities to reach out [to international media] – that the Georgian government does not want media pluralism, especially during the electoral campaign. I will also have to say that this is a threat to democracy in Georgia and I will have to say that all these talks and meetings with me [and the authorities] were only a manipulation and the fact that I was invited was just an attempt to create an alibi for the government. I have never been and will never be an alibi for any government. But I hope that I will have to say something different after a week: [that] the Georgian government is on the right track.”
Michnik criticised the fact that Imedi hadn't already been allowed to resume broadcasting.
“Everyone [from the authorities] were telling me that there was no problem and Imedi should be immediately reopened and even assuring me that they were dreaming of... it,” Michnik said. “However, after three days [here] Imedi still remains off the air and even today technical staff of the television were not allowed in the Imedi premises”
“One week is a deadline and of course I am not happy about this one week, because I am sure it was possible to reopen Imedi even yesterday.”
Peter Semneby, the EU’s special envoy for the South Caucasus, who has been accompanying Michnik on his mission to Georgia, said at the news conference that although “there is no 100% assurance” that Imedi will be reopened in a week, he was more optimistic now than when he first arrived in Tbilisi.
Imedi TV journalists and management say that initially December 5 was rumored to be the station's reopening date, but now it is expected to be December 8. Meanwhile the authorities, Imedi TV journalists claim, are continuing their efforts to undermine the station by pressuring journalists and producers to quit the company, offering them lucrative jobs in both the government-controlled television stations and state agencies. Some journalists and producers have already quit the station.
Michnik said that he had raised his concerns about such alleged pressure in talks with the authorities.
“I have talked about this pressure with people in the president’s administration,” he said.“Their answer was quite familiar for me from my experience," he added. "Answers were like: show us these people [who are under pressure], who are these people, let them put forth proof, etc.”
Michnik also discussed a Georgian government proposal to set up a media monitoring group to observe journalistic standards and ethnics, particularly in the run up to the election.
Michnik said that the proposed body's recommendations or conclusions would not be legally binding on broadcasters. He said he was willing to chair such a watchdog body, but he had a condition of his own.
“I have one condition,” Michnik said. “All five members of the body should be selected personally by me and not by any political force. I have already talked with some of the candidates, but I will announce their names only after Imedi TV is back on air.”
“Why not earlier? Because I know one saying: you should trust people, but always check them,” he said, referring to the pledge given by the authorities to reopen Imedi within a week. He said he would only give names once he was sure that pledge was honoured. He did, however, say that its members, apart from him, would be Georgians.
Michnik also said the authorities had raised “many complaints” about Imedi. “I am not an expert on the Georgian media. But if there was any appeal to violence by any media outlet that is not in line with European standards,” he said.
“I am ready to arrange a group of five persons, which will discuss once in a week all possible violations of media ethics by media outlets… The group will have a narrow task: to discuss whether some one made an appeal for violence or whether there was any false statement, like some one is a KGB agent, etc.”