Controversy over Imedi TV’s fake report took a new twist on Monday evening when a taped phone conversation emerged implicating the television station’s top management in deliberately avoiding making a clear notice to viewers that the report on renewed war with Russia was fake.
The phone conversation is purportedly between Giorgi Arveladze, the head of Imedi television stations and his deputy in charge of news and political programming, Eka Tsamalashvili.
Although Arveladze did not deny that it was his voice heard in the tape, he strongly rejected authenticity of the tape by claiming that it was fabricated.
“No such conversation has ever taken place,” Arveladze told Rustavi 2 television station via phone. “It seems to be a compilation made from my various separate conversations,” he added.
“This is yet another provocation with Russian special services obviously behind it. It was posted on a website with links to Russian special services,” he said.
“I can say it with full responsibility that this taped phone conversation is totally fabricated,” he added.
Eka Tsamalashvili’s position about the taped phone conversation echoed the one of her boss saying that it was “a fabrication”, made up as a result of “a compilation of my various separate conversations.”
In the taped phone conversation a man and a woman, whose voices sound like the ones of Giorgi Arveladze and Eka Tsamalashvili, respectively, discuss details of planned broadcast of the fake report.
In the beginning of the conversation, she tells her interlocutor that the fake report seemed very realistic and if someone started watching it not from the beginning, missing a warning, the one would think that “it is true.”
“That’s how it should be,” the man responds.
She then warns the interlocutor that it would be a violation of broadcaster’s code of conduct if the broadcast had no caption on the screen indicating that the report is fiction.
“No,” the man responds. “I was speaking to Misha yesterday and he asked me if it would be aired like a regular Kronika [news bulletin on Imedi TV]. I responded positively, but told that it would be said in advance that it’s a simulation. But he told me not make an announcement in advance.”
Mentioning of “Misha” – a short form for the name Mikheil, as President Saakashvili is usually referred to – is likely to further fuel allegations that the President personally could have been behind the fake report.
Arveladze is a former government minister and a long-time ally of President Saakashvili.
Earlier on March 15 President’s spokesperson, Manana Manjgaladze, strongly denied the allegation as “absurd.”
In the phone conversation, after listening to the man’s argument about how “Misha” wanted the report to be aired, the woman expresses concern and again warns her interlocutor that without a caption and moreover without in advance notification, the report might “scare” viewers.
“Something may happen if we don’t make a notice in advance… Someone may suffer a heart attack… who will be responsible? You and me,” she says.
In an attempt to allay her concerns the man tells her that he had sent a general plot, not a detailed transcript, of a fake story in a written form to Ghia Nodia, an ex-education minister and a professor at the Tbilisi-based Ilia State University and Zurab Davitashvili, a former ruling party lawmaker and a professor of political science at the Tbilisi State University. “Both of them have replied telling me that it’s good… So everyone likes it and you can even announce that experts were also involved in making of this,” the man says.
Zurab Davitashvili, who is also a member of the Georgian public broadcaster's board of trustees, confirmed in a phone conversation with Civil.Ge that he had received a general outline of the story via e-mail.
“Yes I confirm it. But I did not know that it would have been presented to viewers in a form in which it was… I did not agree with some issues, I had my opinion, but eventually it was up to them [authors to decide],” Zurab Davitashvili said, repeating for several times that he was not aware in advance that the fake report would have ran without warning caption.
Ghia Nodia has also confirmed in a phone conversation with Maestro TV that he had seen the general plot of the story, InterPressNews agency reported.
In the end of the phone conversation the man tells his interlocutor: “In the beginning of the broadcast do not explain in very details that it’s all fake.”
Also on March 15, the Georgian National Communications Commission ruled that Imedi TV has violated law on broadcasting and a code of conduct for broadcasters and ordered the television to read the decision of GNCC in full on its primetime, 8pm news bulletin within next five days.
“We respect the decision of GNCC and agree with it. Our major priority is to do our best so that standards and ethics of journalism is protected by Imedi TV and we will try to show the best example of journalism, especially now as we are approaching local elections,” Giorgi Arveladze said.