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Relaunch of Georgia’s Russian Language Channel
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 24 Jan.'11 / 17:47

The Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) Russian-language satellite news channel will be relaunched on January 25 with, as its management says, “an ambitious goal to set a tone” in unbiased reporting on developments in North Caucasus and beyond.

Launched in January, 2010 the channel was originally called the First Caucasian; it is now called PIK (Perviy Informatsionniy Kavkazsky, the First Caucasus News).

The channel was available on satellite, operated by Paris-based Eutelsat Communications, for less than two weeks last January; the Europe’s leading satellite operator, citing end of trial period put the channel off its W7 satellite and entered into a larger deal with Russia’s Gazprom Media Group on allocating capacity on W7 satellite for its pay-TV provider NTV-Plus. Georgia claimed Russia’s political pressure behind Eutelsat’s move and the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) sued the satellite operator, but the Paris-based court ruled in favor of Eutelsat in July, 2010.

The channel will now be available on Hot Bird satellite, also operated by Eutelsat.

In July, 2010 GPB handed over the channel’s management rights to a private company, Key One LLC (K-1), which was co-founded by a British journalist Robert Parsons, who was approached by the Georgian government with a request to run the channel. Parsons co-founded the firm together with Ekaterina Kotrikadze, head of PIK’s newsroom.

Parsons, who was international affairs editor at France 24 TV, worked as BBC Moscow correspondent in1993-2002 and was a director of RFE/RL’s Georgian Service in 2003-2005, laid out his plans about the channel to GPB’s board of trustees on July 14, 2010.

Also in July GPB signed one year contract worth GEL 13.9 million with K-1.

Speaking at a news conference on January 24, Robert Parsons, who is PIK’s director general, said, that the channel had start-up budget of EUR 7 million, which allowed to get an office, to refurbish it, to recruit and train staff and to purchase the equipment.

He, however, said the budget for this year was not yet defined as the channel’s management was still in talks with the Georgian Public Broadcaster on the matter.

As part of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the channel will be limited in advertisement. The law bans GPB to run ads in primetime, except during sport events. PIK’s management said that it wanted the Georgian lawmakers to look into the possibility to amend the law so that to give more room to PIK in attracting ads.

“We also want to look into possibility of acquiring investment from EU and the United States and that’s something we’ll be looking very closely probably in March or April,” Parsons said.

'Not Going to Fight Propaganda with Propaganda'

The channel will broadcast six hours a day from 6pm to midnight Moscow time and will cover the territory of Russia and its North Caucasus, as well as the South Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Iran.

Responding to allegations by critics both in Russia and Georgia, that the channel might become one more propaganda tool in the Georgian authorities’ hands, Parsons said that the channel was not going to fight Russia’s propaganda with propaganda.

“I’ve never worked for a propaganda channel and I will never work for propaganda channel. Propaganda is never fruitful… We won’t have viewers if we go down that road,” Parsons said speaking in Georgian.

“To those who doubt us we have a simple reply: First watch and then make your judgment,” he said.

He also said he had been promised that there would be no political interference. “If there is, we can’t do the work,” Parsons added.

In one of his public speeches in November, 2010 President Saakashvili spoke of “cultural and political” power of television stations and in this context mentioned Georgia’s Russian-language channel.

“A Russian-language Georgian television is now being created and you will see how much audience it [Georgia’s Russian-language channel] will take from them [the Russian broadcasters], because these are the television stations [referring to the Georgian ones], which originated from democratic culture of the ancient nation,” Saakashvili said on November 8.

Covering North Caucasus and Beyond

An award winning journalist David Chater with more than 30 years experience in television news has been recruited by Robert Parsons as his deputy in charge of news.

Speaking at a news conference on January 24 Chater said, that while Middle East conflict gets intense coverage in the western media, “what has been called the Caucasian intifada gets virtually nothing.”

“We’re gonna change that; we’re gonna look at it; we’re gonna try to break that Caucasian knot, make sure that another view apart of the Kremlin is taken on what is happening in the North Caucasus at the moment,” he said.

Chater also said that PIK’s news service would look beyond Russia and also focus on broader region as well.

“Despite the fact that the Russian troops are occupying this country, Russia is not the only thing on news agenda,” Chater said.

He said that the channel would look all across the region with Turkey being one of “the vital areas to cover”.

Chater also said that covering Iran beyond nuclear issue would also be a priority for the channel.

PIK will have its own network of correspondents in Baku, Yerevan, Moscow, Kiev, Makhachkala, Ankara, Brussels, Washington, Vladikavkaz and Tehran.

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