Tbilisi-based Maestro TV station said on December 29, that it had to either reduce or even suspend news programs because of financial problems originating from a dispute with the station’s managing company founded by Erosi Kitsmarishvili, one of the leaders of newly established opposition Georgian Party.
Maestro TV’s general director, Kakha Bekauri, claimed at a news conference on December 29, that Kitsmarishvili was pressuring the TV station to become “a mouthpiece” of the Georgian Party. Bekauri said that the move met his and Maestro TV’s owners’ resistance, which eventually led to financial difficulties.
Kitsmarishvili through his firm, Rustavi Media Management Company, took over Maestro TV management rights for three years in November, 2009, after signing a contract with the TV station’s owners. Maestro TV is owned by ten individuals with each holding 10% shares.
In March, 2010 with the consent of station owners, Kitsmarishvili appointed Kakha Bekauri as Maestro TV’s new director in charge of day-to-day management of the TV station. In October, 2010, when Kitsmarishvili together with some other high-profile opposition figures established the Georgian Party, he said that he had nothing to do with Maestro TV management since appointment of Bekauri as its director.
On December 23, 2010, when Maestro TV suspended broadcast for two days citing “technical problems” originating from financial difficulties, Bekauri denied speculation that Kitsmarishvili had something to do with those problems.
But speaking at a news conference on December 29, which was aired live by Maestro TV, Bekauri accused Kitsmarishvili of deliberately creating financial problems to force him to resign and the reason, according to Bekauri, was his refusal to turn Maestro TV into Georgian Party’s mouthpiece.
Bekauri said that the original goal was to build a genuinely independent and unbiased news TV channel, but Kitsmarishvili turned away from that principle after he co-established the Georgian Party.
“His original stance has been changing since then. Development of Maestro TV on the independent and unbiased path was no longer in his interests. Based on his political interests he wanted Maestro to become a mouthpiece of his party’s interests,” Bekauri said.
He said that after he refused Kitsmarishvili tried to replace him, but could not do that because, according to the contract consent of TV station owners was also required for that.
“So he decided to force me to resign through cutting financial sources,” Bekauri said.
According to Bekauri, the Rustavi Media Management Company was the major source of finances for the TV station with ad revenues contributing to only “a slight portion” of Maestro TV’s financial needs.
Bekauri said that the third source of income was donations from “apolitical” financial backers; but this funding became unavailable immediately after Kitsmarishvili co-founded the political party, Bekauri said, because those donors were no longer willing to contribute to the TV station associated with a person in politics.
“There is a direct blackmail [from Kitsmarishvili]: ‘finances will be available if you resign’,” Bekauri said.
He said that according to the contract between Maestro TV owners and Rustavi Media Management Company, the owners were not able to appoint new director general independently without Kitsmarishvili’s consent.
Bekauri said that the Maestro TV was now considering ceasing contract with Rustavi Media Management Company on the grounds that it failed to fulfill its commitments by not providing finances. The process, he said, may take more than three months.
His suggestion was that distancing from Kitsmarishvili might help the TV station to resume financial backing from “apolitical” donors.
Bekauri also claimed that Kitsmarishvili was encouraged to pressure Maestro TV by “one of his political partners”. He declined to specify. Former public defender Sozar Subari; exiled ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili; Levan Gachechiladze, an opposition presidential candidate in 2008 elections and Koka Guntsadze co-founded the Georgian Party together with Kitsmarishvili.
Bekauri said that the TV station was not even able to pay communication bills and had two-month staff salary arrears.
The Maestro TV announced in its noon and 3pm news programs (the latter consisted only from live coverage of Bekauri’s news conference and some foreign news with no coverage of developments in Georgia), that it was no longer able to provide regular news coverage because of financial problems.