Two days after Maestro TV aired reports critical of the authorities, the government, and then in a separate statement PM Irakli Garibashvili’s party, slammed the Tbilisi-based private television station accusing its reports of being “biased.”
In its weekly program, hosted by journalist Vakho Sanaia, Maestro TV aired on May 18 several reports – some of them were looking into how Georgian Dream ruling coalition is delivering with its promises, pledged before it came into power, and others were about “acute problem of nepotism” in current, as well as in previous government. Those series of reports also included vox pop interviews recorded in Tbilisi streets in which many of the respondents were saying that GD is failing to deliver with its pre-election promises.
On May 20 government’s press office released a lengthy statement saying that Maestro TV’s program was “clearly biased.”
“The journalist tried to portray a picture as if not a single promise of the authorities has been fulfilled. In an attempt to support this lie, he resorted to interviewing people in the streets and selected [for airing in program] those responses, which would have reinforced the main line of the entire program,” reads the statement.
“The journalist, who has an ambition of being objective, perhaps should not have ignored difficult legacy inherited by the new authorities and that it was possible to achieve visible results, which are felt by the population on a daily basis,” government’s press office said.
Then the statement lists issues in which, the government says, serious achievements were possible, among them: making judiciary, media and business free, as well as healthcare reform and introduction of universal healthcare system (this latter issue was mentioned, mainly in positive terms, in Maestro TV’s program too); on “restoration of justice”, the statement reads: “Number of [former] high-ranking officials are arrested, who are charged with grave crimes.”
The statement also says that “all the desirable results” were not possible because of last year’s political cohabitation period, when Mikheil Saakashvili was still the president. “But positive trends are obvious and fulfillment of government’s promises in a four-year cycle is absolutely realistic,” it said.
“We do not know what was the motive of Maestro TV and its journalist in giving a biased portrayal of reality. But we hope that the public will judge and assess what to trust and what not to trust,” reads the statement.
Also on May 20, Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), led by PM Irakli Garibashvili, released a written statement, read out before journalists by GD coalition spokesperson, saying that “some media outlets have stepped up groundless allegations and slander against members and leaders of the Georgian Dream coalition” ahead of the upcoming local elections.
“An obvious demonstration of this was a report in Vakho Sanaia’s program about nepotism... The report was so absurd that even elected MP Lekso Tamazashvili [GD majoritarian lawmaker from Dedoplistskaro constituency is brother of PM Garibashvili’s wife] was mentioned as being employed as a result of nepotism,” GDDG party said in a statement, adding, without specifying, that the report was based on “inaccuracies” as some of the individuals in the report are not even employed in the public service.
“It will be very regrettable if Maestro TV joins those media outlets, which use platform available for them for circulating biased information,” it said.
By the end of his hour-long program on May 18, Sanaia told viewers jokingly: “I think we pitted more than enough people against us today.”
“I did not think that joke of mine would have turned into reality in just two days,” he said smiling on May 20 in a separate news program which he co-hosts on Maestro TV and in which he defended reports in his program aired two days earlier.
Tbilisi-based watchdog group, Transparency International Georgia, said that rhetoric employed by the government in its statement can be assessed as an attempt to meddle in TV station’s editorial policy.
“Media environment free from any kind of pressure implies that dissent and critical views voiced by a media outlet should not be becoming a reason for attack from the government,” TI Georgia said.