The Georgian leadership is demanding that News Corporation take sole ownership of Imedi TV and radio stations, senior Georgian officials said on November 28. The American media giant is, however, against the proposal. The authorities also want unnamed journalists “engaged in politics” to quit journalism.
The Georgian authorities, in talks with News Corp. executives, also outlined two other demands - quarterly financial audits of Imedi and guarantees of journalistic integrity and professional standards.
“Imedi will be back on air, but at this stage it is difficult to give an exact date as to when it will happen,” Alexander Lomaia, the secretary of the National Security Council, told journalists. “We want News Corp. to be a player on the Georgian media scene, but the company should know that it must observe Georgian laws… We really want Imedi back on air and we are doing everything in our power to make it happen”
Lomaia and recently appointed Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze met with Martin Pompadur, the executive vice-president of News Corp. this weekend in Tbilisi.
“News Corp. expressed its regret about the way Imedi was shut down,” Lomaia said. “It really was not pleasant and we have assured News Corp. that the Georgian authorities are ready to compensate for damages inflicted after an audit is carried out.”
PM Gurgenidze told journalists on November 28 that that the “requests” put forth by the Georgian authorities during the talks were not “extraordinary” or unacceptable.
News Corp. bought a share in Imedi TV and radio stations last year from business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. Last month, Patarkatsishvili, after he had announced his intention to finance the opposition coalition, handed over management rights of his shares to News Corp. for a year. The Georgian authorities, however, have claimed that the deal was a fiction, with Patarkatsishvili continuing to manipulate the TV company’s editorial policy for his own political ends and to incite unrest in the country.
“We want News Corp. to be the 100% shareholder of Imedi and we do not want the company to play some kind of unclear role in Imedi,” Gurgenidze said. He added, however, that News Corp. was unamenable to the suggestion.
“This one-page document on the handing over of management rights to News Corp. is absolutely unclear and was even made in violation of the law on broadcasting,” Lomaia said. “Even the representatives of News Corp. have acknowledged this and they are now working on a new contract. But it remains unclear why they signed that document in the first place.”
The Georgian authorities are also demanding access to Imedi’s financial records. “According to Imedi’s tax returns, the company is experiencing financial losses. So we want to know how it is financed,” PM Gurgenidze said.
The prime minister then moved on to talk about unnamed journalists, who, he said, were engaged in politics. He demanded that they quit the profession. “We believe it isn't right that journalists, who have gone into politics or are engaged in politics for a long time, remain in journalism,” PM Gurgenidze said.
Although he did not name names, the prime minister's comments are widely seen as a reference to Giorgi Targamadze, a popular anchor and head of Imedi TV’s political programs. Recently two other popular anchors of political talk shows - Inga Grigolia and Eka Khoperia - quit Imedi. Targamadze, however, said he had no intention to follow their lead.
“I respect both Eka and Inga, but I think it was not the right decision to quit Imedi at this very difficult time for the television station,” Targamadze said in an interview with Ucnobi FM, a Tbilisi-based radio station, on November 28. “I can imagine they came under pressure to do so.”
PM Gurgenidze also said that an independent media watchdog body was needed to monitor broadcasting ethics and standards. “Such a body could convene once a week to publicly speak about mistakes made by this or that broadcasting company,” Gurgenidze said. “We have also suggested in the talks with News Corp. that this watchdog body was needed to monitor not only Imedi but other broadcasters as well.”
Meanwhile, an attempt was made on November 27 to revitalize the Media Council, which was set up by about 20 media organizations in 2005 to monitor professional standards and ethics in journalism.
The council was convened and issued a statement outlining major principles to be adhered to by media outlets during the pre-election period. Imedi TV is a founding member of the council. Giorgi Targamadze of Imedi TV, however, complained on November 28 that his station hadn't even been notified of the planned Media Council session.
“I think it is unethical to focus on how broadcasters should report during the electoral campaign, when Imedi remains shut down,” he said.