Maestro TV, one of the two Tbilisi-based television stations critical to the authorities, was embroiled in a dispute with its managing firm leading to suspension of broadcasting for several hours on Wednesday morning.
Broadcasting was resumed by the noon, but its regular programming is hindered by extraordinary circumstances inside the station’s premises.
One of the station’s co-owners, Mamuka Glonti, has locked himself inside the TV station’s control room and newsroom together with several staff members, saying that he fears he may be evicted from the premises.
Erosi Kitsmarishvili, founder of the Maestro TV’s managing firm, and some of his companions are in the rest of the building.
Kitsmarishvili, President Saakashvili former ally and now political secretary of the Georgian Party, arrived at the station’s premises together with about dozen of other men in early hours on Wednesday morning; jumped over the fence, entered inside the premises and announced about sacking of the station’s general director.
He claims that under the November, 2009 contract with co-owners of the Maestro TV on handing over management rights to his company, he had the right to unilaterally sack the station’s director. He said he had attracted USD 4.5 million since 2009 and wanted to have a direct say in efficient spending of the funds. But a lawyer for the TV station said three-fourth of this sum came from the station’s one of the owners Maka Asatiani not from Kitsmarishvili.
Glonti and other co-owners of the TV station, however, say that the three-year contract signed with Kitsmarishvili in late 2009 does not contain any provision giving Kitsmarishvili’s firm a right to unilateral take decisions about the station’s management without agreement with the owners.
It was not immediately possible to obtain text of the contract; but Glonti said on November 30, that he would make all the documents related to the case publicly available.
Glonti also suggested on November 30, that Kitsmarishvili might be acting with tacit backing from the authorities. A similar allegation has been voiced by some opposition politicians.
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Mikheil Machavariani of the ruling party said it was “absurd” to blame authorities for the developments in the Maestro TV.
Glonti also complained about the police saying that they failed to secure his rights of owner to freely move in his property. Police was called by Maestro TV staff after Kitsmarishvili arrived at the station on Wednesday morning. The Interior Ministry said that the police arrived with a sole purpose to prevent any physical clash between the conflicting parties.
One part of the Maestro TV journalists, including some anchors of talk shows were based in an office of the Maestro TV affiliated FM radio station; from there they were leading programs, hosting various figures and journalists from other media sources, condemning Kitsmarishvili’s moves.
Kitsmarishvili recently publicly voiced criticism of Maestro TV’s coverage of political events in the country, telling one of the TV station’s talk show programs on November 15 that the station was overly and unnecessarily focused on covering developments related to billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Shares in the Maestro TV are distributed between several individuals. 25% of Maestro TV’s shares are owned by Giorgi Gachechiladze, brother of an opposition figure Levan Gachechiladze. 25% of Maestro TV’s are owned by Maka Asatiani, Gachechiladze’s long-time friend. The rest of the shares are divided between four original founders of the TV station with three of them holding 15% of shares – Glonti is among them – and one holding 5%.
On November 26 an agreement was signed between Gachechiladze and four original founders of the station according to which Gachechiladze is handing managing rights over his 25% of shares to the station’s director Bacho Kikabidze. Kitsmarishvili now claims that he had sacked Kikabidze. According to the same contract Gachechiladze’s 25% of shares would be sold to four original founders by December 10, 2012, after the term of three-year contract with Kitsmarishvili’s managing firm expires.