Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), which is already embroiled in a row over sacking of director by the board for the second time in six months, became entangled in more controversy after two its political talk-shows were closed down and their hosts sacked from GPB’s flagship First Channel.
Eka Kvesitadze and Davit Paichadze, the hosts of these two talk-shows that were offering a venue for discussing issues in depth, said their firing by an interim director general of GPB was politically motivated and represented government’s pressure on media.
Kvesitadze and Paichadze are both perceived by some as being biased in favor of the previous authorities. When rumors of possible closure of these two talk-shows first emerged, Tbilisi-based watchdog Transparency International Georgia warned GPB management that it will have to provide a solid justification in case of shutting down these talk-shows, “otherwise, questions will arise concerning political bias of the management itself.”
The talk-shows in question, Accents and Dialogue with Davit Paichadze, which were launched four years ago, were suspended, like many other programs, for a summer break in July and have not been resumed since then; new talk-shows have not yet been launched either, although GPB management says several new programs are expected from October. It is legally binding for GPB to run political talk-shows ahead of elections.
“Our action was fair,” acting director general of GPB, Tamaz Tkemaladze, said in defense of his decision.
“Their [referring to Kvesitadze and Paichadze] tone does not fit into public broadcasting neither legally nor from the point of view of its substance and independence,” he continued. “They represent a party and the public is irritate about it. Our analytical department provides data about it and even without that it is well known that everyone has the same opinion about this issue; so why should we irritate [viewers]? A talk-show whose [host] is a party is not acceptable.”
Tamaz Tkemaladze became interim head of the GPB upon the decision of broadcaster’s board of trustees after the latter sacked general director Giorgi Baratashvili for the second time already since March. Baratashvili, who accused the board of being under the influence of President Saakashvili’s UNM party, took his firing to court. He has once already won his post back after winning a court case against the board following his dismissal in March.
“Politics is obviously behind this decision not to have talk-shows hosted by me and Eka,” Davit Paichadze said at a joint news conference with Kvesitadze, held on September 18 in GPB.
“Of course that’s purely political decision,” Kvesitadze said.
They both have accused PM Ivanishvili of being behind this decision to sack them.
“We all remember a promise made [in May, 2012] by then opposition leader and now the Prime Minister to turn this channel into ‘genuine’ public broadcasting, where certain category of people would not be employed,” Paichadze said.
He was referring to Ivanishvili’s remarks when he blamed Kvesitadze on May 28, 2012 for being biased against the Georgian Dream coalition and said: “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.”
Kvesitadze alleged at the news conference on September 18, that PM Ivanishvili was actually putting into practice an idea he had once floated about merger of his Channel 9 and GPB – the idea which, Ivanishvili later said, was no longer considered. She said that some former employees of now closed down Channel 9 were hired by GPB and a former host of political talk-show on Channel 9, Eka Beridze, was going to host a new political talk-show on GPB.
Kvesitadze also said that she plans to appeal her sacking to the court and added that she will seek meetings with Tbilisi-based foreign diplomats to inform them about “pressure on free media”.
The press conference was marred by several fierce critics of the two sacked journalists, who were shouting at them with one telling fired journalists to “shut up” and another telling them that their time is up and they will “no longer poison” the public. There was also an incident outside GPB between small groups of supporters and detractors of the two fired journalists.