Two privately-owned leading Georgian television stations – Imedi and Rustavi 2 - have come under the spotlight amid current political stand off between the authorities and the opposition.
While the key governmental figures accuse Imedi television station of “creating illusion of pre-revolutionary atmosphere” through extensively covering recent protest rallies over the Girgvliani murder case trial, the opposition announced boycott to the Rustavi 2 TV claiming that the television has turned into “a governmental branch.”
Rustavi 2 TV, which is a major competitor of Imedi TV, suffered a blow after a popular anchor of its political talk-show Tavisupali Tema (Free Theme) announced resignation on air on July 6 citing “unacceptable demands” put forth by “some governmental officials,” whose names she declined to reveal.
Sandro Girgvliani's high-profile murder case was the topic of Eka Khoperia’s talk show on July 6. Khoperia announced during the live program that she wanted to interview Data Akhalaia, ex-chief of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Constitutional Security. Akhalaia is accused by Girgvliani’s relatives, as well as by some human right groups and opposition parties of being behind this murder case.
She said that there were “several demands and requests” from the governmental officials to interview Data Akhalaia in the end of the program, which was unacceptable for her. She also expressed her personal opinion and said that “the Interior Minister must resign when such a murder occurs.”
Director-General of the Rustavi 2 Nika Tabatadze strongly denied on July 7 any pressure from the authorities or from the television’s top management on Eka Khoperia and said that her statement was a surprise for him.
“This bargaining about who will be first guest and who – last, is a normal part of the working process over the program,” Tabatadze said.
An influential parliamentarian from the ruling National Movement party Giga Bokeria also denied on July 7 that a pressure was exerted on Khoperia.
The Rustavi 2 TV has often been accused by opponents of perusing an official line of the President Saakashvili’s administration. It has also been widely speculated that the television’s editorial policy was largely determined by officials from the ruling National Movement party. The Rustavi 2 TV is owned by a businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who is described by the Georgian media as a close friend of Defense Minister Irakli Okruashili. Rustavi 2 TV has recently expanded its broadcasting business after Khalvashi reportedly bought 78% of the Tbilisi-based Mze television station.
Although in her statements Eka Khoperia refrained to use a term “pressure,” the opposition leaders considered announcement of the popular anchor as a confirmation to the allegations that the television station is government-controlled and stated on July 7 that they will no longer give interviews to this television.
“From now on we will suspend cooperation with this television. We will not give interviews to Rustavi 2 as it has turned into the Interior Ministry’s unit and we all share this position,” leader of the New Rights, MP Davit Gamkrelidze said at a joint news conference which was held with representatives of the Republican, Conservative, Industrialists, Freedom and Labor parties on July 7.
On the same day key officials close to President Saakashvili convened a joint news conference and slammed media sources for bias coverage of the recent developments in the country, mainly involving the opposition parties protest rallies. In their criticism officials mainly focused on Imedi television station which is owned by an influential media and financial tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.
Chief of the President’s Administration Giorgi Arveladze said at a news conference that “Imedi television was directly voicing calls for revolution and mass protest rallies.”
Imedi television has expensively covered court trial over Sandro Girgvliani’s murder case and following protests.
“We are sorry that this kind of coverage takes place, but at the same time I want to stress that we are not going to resort to any kind of tools in this regard,” MP Bokeria said.
Imedi TV denied allegations on the same day as groundless. Inga Grigolia, a popular anchor of the political talk-show aired by Imedi TV made a statement on behalf of the television stations.
“Statements that the Imedi television was calling for revolution are totally false. If the opposition leaders are making political statements, we the journalists are only reporting about it,” Inga Grigolia said.
Key officials also complained on July 7 that most of the media sources in Georgia are covering more extensively developments surrounding the opposition’s protest rallies rather than President Saakashvili’s successful visit to the United States.
“President Saakashvili’s visit to the United States was covered more extensively in the U.S. rather than in Georgia,” Giga Bokeria, an influential parliamentarian from the ruling party, said.
“I have an impression that the officials, who were irritated over Khoperia’s statements, burst out their anger in direction of the Imedi TV. And I want to remind everyone that the Imedi was the first to report about the results of the Bush-Saakashvili talks [on July 5], while other televisions were at that time broadcasting World Cup [football] match,” Imedi TV's Inga Grigolia said.
Officials stepped up Imedi TV’s criticism after the television reported in March about the circumstances surrounding Sandro Girgvliani’s murder. This report alleged that the Interior Ministry’s some top-level officials could have been behind this murder.
In March, owner of the television Badri Patarkatsishvili unleashed criticism towards the authorities, accusing them of mounting pressure on Imedi TV. In late April, Patarkatsishvili said that Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corporation was going to buy shares of Imedi Holding, which unites television and radio stations.