Remarks by leader of Georgian Dream opposition coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, that the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) should “re-adjust” to public’s interests otherwise would face losing funding, prompted GPB to release a statement condemning the billionaire’s statement as part of “a pressure campaign” against the broadcaster.
Speaking at a news conference on May 28, Ivanishvili, without being asked about it, mentioned GPB’s weekly political talk-show, Accents, hosted by Eka Kvesitadze, which was discussing the Georgian Dream’s campaign rally on May 27. One of the guests, interviewed in the program, was Ghia Nodia, political analyst and head of the International School of Caucasus Studies at Ilia State University, who held education minister’s post for several months in 2008.
Nodia spoke mainly positively about how Georgian Dream’s large-scale campaign rally was held and also mentioned Ivanishvili’s citizenship issue, criticizing authorities for amending constitution for Ivanishvili instead of returning to him the Georgian citizenship, but also said that stripping Ivanishvili of his Georgian citizenship back in October after he announced about his political plans was legally justified, because at the time he already had French passport; Nodia added that entering into citizenship of a foreign country, while having Georgian citizenship, which resulted into losing of his Georgian passport in October, was show of disrespect by Ivanishvili towards the Georgian citizenship.
During the press conference Ivanishvili accused host of the program of bias and said, that Eka Kvesitadze “was so upset because so many people turned out [at the campaign rally] that she could not even hide it.” He also slammed Nodia as “a demagogue.”
“Demagogues like Ghia Nodia are in Europe as well,” Ivanishvili said, adding that while discussing citizenship issue Nodia “put major blame on me, even saying that I do not respect the Georgian citizenship.”
“When we come into power – and we will come into power – of course society will not pay salary to a public broadcaster employee if [she/he] has such a stance against the society like Kvesitadze had yesterday. Likewise, Ghia Nodia will no longer be heard; in his age he probably won’t be able any more to get out of this demagogy, but he will have to work hard in his old age [Nodia is 57] in order to use more polished demagogy instead of such a rough demagogy as if Ivanishvili does not respect Georgian citizenship… With such a rough demagogy it will be very difficult for him to find his place in new society; but he may manage to make his [demagogy] polished,” Ivanishvili said.
He also said that he was not threatening that current employees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster or other pro-government television channels would be sacked.
“They will have to re-adjust their rhetoric, otherwise they won’t be [watched] by the society, no advertisement will be placed there... I do not want to close any of the television; on the contrary, more TV channels should be opened, there should be more of them, but they will have to target at least certain segment of society if not a broader [audience] in order to have advertisement revenues… If they fail to re-adjust and fit to the society, they won’t be able to be financed. We all know very well how these [TV] channels of lies are being financed – their bosses are stealing money from the society and then financing [TV channels’] lies in detriment to the society. We will not let them do it… 80-90% of the current media is based on lies – that will be changed; we won’t ban anything to anyone; it will happen by itself, they won’t be able anymore to sell their lies, because no one will be paying for it… All of them will have to re-adjust and act in a way as the society likes it,” Ivanishvili said.
GPB said in its statement that by his remarks made on May 28, Ivanishvili “continued his campaign of pressure on media and in particular on the public broadcaster.”
It said that the public broadcaster’s funding was guaranteed under the law, envisaging that GPB should be financed with an amount of at least 0.12% of the country’s GDP – the scheme, which, GPB said, was a guarantee of its editorial policy.
“Threatening to change rule of financing arbitrarily, even more to suspend public broadcaster’s [funding], is perceived as an open blackmail and a rough attempt to change [GPB’s] editorial policy ahead of the elections,” GPB said in the statement. “As it seems, Ivanishvili wants to see the Public Broadcasting exclusively in service of his political interests – that is in conflict with the idea of media freedom in general and the public broadcasting in particular.”
It has also called on international and local democracy watchdog groups and media outlets “to adequately assess cases of pressure on media by Ivanishvili and his team.”