PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said on November 22 that he would "donate" his television station, Channel 9, to the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) if and when the latter turns into “a genuinely public broadcaster” or would establish “a truly public television” on the basis of the Channel 9.
Tbilisi-based Channel 9, which was launched in April 2012, is funded by Georgia's billionaire Prime Minister and co-owned by his wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze.
Speaking at a news conference on November 22, Ivanishvili said that as a prime minister he felt “uncomfortable” with the fact that his wife was a co-owner of the news TV channel. "I will remove this inconvenience very soon," he said.
He said he was considering two possible options; "if possible in the nearest future and it should be made possible" to turn GPB into "genuinely public broadcaster" he would hand over the entire property of Channel 9, involving equipment, studios and offices to GPB "free of charge". He also added that "it will be good" if journalists now working for Channel 9 would also become part of GPB in case of merger.
"If it does not or cannot take place... then I do not rule out to make genuinely pubic television based on Channel 9," Ivanishvili said.
He said that he would donate in advance as much money to this television channel as it would require for operation in next twenty years.
"It will be financially cut from me and it won't depend on me; it won't have any ties to my family," PM Ivanishvili said.
He said that GPB was far from being a public television. "It only has such name, but in fact it has served and still serves one particular group," he said, referring to President Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) party.
When earlier this month the Finance Ministry's revenue service launched a tax probe into GPB, which has GEL 3.8 million debt in unpaid taxes, UNM said it was an attempt to mount pressure on the public broadcaster; UNM also said at the time that Ivanishvili was planning to merge GPB with his Channel 9.
Tax probe into the public broadcaster "is a normal process", which has not resulted into restriction of journalists' work and "it won't happen in the future either," Ivanishvili said on November 22.
At the same news conference Ivanishvili welcomed that some of the previous owners of the Rustavi 2 TV were willing to reclaim this television station.
Rustavi 2 TV, which is now run by a former government member, has changed hands for multiple times since the 2003 Rose Revolution; changes in its ownership structure was mainly related to political developments in the country. Some of the previous owners of Rustavi 2 TV, including several of its original founders - Davit Dvali and Jarji Akimidze, have signaled that they would launch litigation with a purpose to reclaim ownership of the channel.
Ivanishvili said on November 22 that from his point of view these two were "real owners" of Rustavi 2 TV. Current owners of the television station said in a statement that PM's remarks amounted to open "encouragement of the TV company's former owners to launch groundless litigation against lawful owners of the company."