PM Ivanishvili meets television journalists in his private residence in Tbilisi, October 2. Photo: PM’s press office
PM Ivanishvili stayed again almost four hours on the air scolding interlocutors – this time journalists invited in his private residence in Tbilisi, lambasting them for, as he put it, “dilettantism” and lack of responsibility.
Sixteen journalists – heads of newsrooms and hosts of political talk shows from major television stations, were sitting at a round glass conference table listening to PM lecturing them about his views on journalism and how, as he put it, unsubstantiated criticism was hurting hardworking cabinet ministers and discouraging them from doing good deeds.
A week ago thirteen analysts, who make frequent media appearances for commentary on political and economic issues, were sitting at the same table listening to PM’s criticism about how they were failing to make proper analysis “based on actual realities”. Armed with printout of analysts’ quotes from their media interviews, Ivanishvili was asking them to try and justify their remarks; turning to one of the analysts present at the four-hour long live televised meeting, he slammed him for predicting “chaos” after Ivanishvili’s pre-term resignation; he said that the public was wiser than many of the political commentators.
Same scenario played out on October 2 when Ivanishvili met journalists; he brought printout of extracts from some of the journalists’ questions or comments made in their talk shows, challenging them for these remarks.
In one instance, Ivanishvili criticized an outspoken host of a political talk show on Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV, Aleko Elisashvili, for his remarks like “there is a mess in economy”, “economic stagnation”, “Ivanishvili’s departure [from politics] will lead to collapse”, “does Ivanishvili’s resignation amount to fleeing?”, telling him that even if such terms were used for formulating a question to his respondents, it was anyway misleading. After initially trying to explain the context in which those remarks were made, at one point Elisashvili told the PM: “You can’t teach me how to ask questions.”
Ivanishvili responded that he was not trying to teach them and reiterated for number of times that he respects journalists and that’s why he was engaging openly in debates with them; he, however, also said that not only government members, but journalists also should feel accountable and asking questions to journalists should not be interpreted as lecturing them.
During the meeting Ivanishvili also complained that some journalists were not asking “elementary questions” when interviewing respondents, mentioning President Saakashvili in particular; listening to Saakashvili’s monologues without pressing him on specific issues “is not right journalism,” he said.
He also criticized television stations for the way how guests of their talk shows and TV debates are selected.
“On the one side we usually see a government or [GD] coalition representative and on the other side there often are such persons who do not assume responsibility for their own remarks and are distinguished by their demagoguery; as a result viewers get raw information making it difficult for them to find out what actually is happening,” Ivanishvili said.
“More responsibility should be felt in your position and remarks… Increase of responsibility will hopefully also lead to increase of professionalism,” he said.
Ivanishvili also said that some journalists are showing “dilettantism”, especially when reporting on economy.
He also complained that “not a single journalist or expert was able to properly assess” his statement about the motives behind his decision on pre-term resignation.
Ivanishvili said that despite of “miraculous” achievements made by his government, the media is often portraying such a picture as if everything goes wrong in the country.
“A new revolution would have happened” if the public had believed in wrong assessments made by media, NGOs and expert community, he said.
He also said that listening to some media reports about prison system, one might think that the situation in the penitentiary is the same as it was under the previous authorities.
“Poor [prison system minister Sozar] Subari spends nights; he needs defense and he needs to be thanked and you should know it. You should know that it will upset them [officials] if we fail to express our gratitude for the good deeds they make… They take it [unjustified criticism] to heart and many of them may not even be able to withstand such pressure and may refuse to continue [working],” Ivanishvili said.
“There are so many incorrect remarks on the part of media and experts that the government itself now needs defense,” Ivanishvili said. “Criticism and government oversight does not mean swearing at [the government]… Criticism means giving right assessment. If something good is done, there should be proper [assessment] and sense of gratitude should not be lost in the society,” the PM said.
A host of talk show on Tbilisi-based TV3, Inga Grigolia, a long-time journalist who went into politics in 2010 but made journalistic comeback this year, told the PM: “This is getting like a score settling.”
“Should a journalist agree our questions with government prior asking them?” she asked ironically.
“How well you understood what I said,” Ivanishvili responded also ironically. “What I am asking for is only a question based on arguments.”
Kavkasia TV owner and a host of a political talk show, Nino Jangirashvili, told the PM: “I hope your remarks about ministers needing defense will not be translated into putting an iron curtain with journalists.”
Asked by a host of political talk show on Tbilisi-based Maestro TV, Nino Zhizhilashvili, who advised him to choose such a form of communication with the media, the PM responded that it was his idea.
“I think it is a very good form of [communication]; it was needed, because I want to remind to journalists that they too have their share of responsibility; sometimes they forget about it,” Ivanishvili said.
A heated argument was triggered after the journalists press the PM about his personal response to ongoing ‘borderisation’ process along the breakaway South Ossetian boundary line. He was criticized by some journalists for not visiting affected villages and not meeting with the locals, which, as they said, could have been a serious encouragement for the local population. Ivanishvili said that it was a justified criticism, but also said that his visit, which could have been politically beneficial for him, would not have changed “much in principle.” He also suggested that there were thousands of others across the country, who need government’s help, but he can’t visit everyone because of lot of other work he has to do. The PM also said there was nothing the government could do about ‘borderisation’, except of providing assistance to the local population.
Although he was pressed by journalists to name whom he was going to name for the prime ministerial post after his pre-term resignation, Ivanishvili remained tight-lipped on the issue.
Ivanishvili said that he plans to hold such a meeting with regional media and NGO representatives as well.
Two Tbilisi-based watchdog groups, Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy released a joint statement saying that PM’s “tone and his instructions on how reporters should formulate questions can be considered an undue interference in the work of the media.”
“Georgia now finally has a pluralistic media landscape, which could be regarded as a post-election achievement. Different media outlets are accessible to large parts of the population, providing different views and narratives, allowing voters to form their own opinions. Rather than lashing out at media representative he disagrees with, the Prime Minister should take pride in the fact the country he leads has a largely free and pluralistic media landscape with journalists producing critical reports,” reads the statement.