Vasil Maglaperidze, newly-elected Director-General of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, announced plans for suspending all TV and radio programming, citing problems with GPB’s low viewership.
Maglaperidze’s action plan for 2017-2019, unveiled at his press briefing on February 6, aims at “recovering the public broadcaster from crisis and creating ground for sustainable progress.”
For that purpose, it entails four core activities: shutdown of all TV and radio programming except news programs until 2018; staff reduction; updating equipment and infrastructure; introducing the principle of competition in all GPB segments.
“Without [these] radical steps, the public broadcaster will not serve its purpose and its [public] funding will lose sense,” Maglaperidze wrote in the action plan.
“It is necessary to temporarily suspend the programming ... This does not mean that we are terminating them, we are [just] suspending [the programs], so that the broadcaster [itself] does not have to shut down for a longer period of time,” Maglaperidze said at the press briefing.
Maglaperidze’s plans were criticized by both opposition political parties and civil society organizations.
About dozen of civil society and media organizations, united in the Coalition for Media Advocacy, said in a joint statement on February 6 that the proposed plan “is radical” and “will paralyze the broadcaster for at least a year.”
The coalition pointed at the upcoming municipal elections and the ongoing constitutional reform process and called on GPB board of trustees to take this into consideration when deciding on the issue.
The Transparency International – Georgia said in its statement on February 7 that while the necessity of GPB reform is “obvious,” efforts should be made to avoid “using the reform for achieving specific political objectives.”
The organization called on the board of trustees to “request a detailed plan” from Maglaperidze and "take into account the risks linked to shutting down the programs." “Rash decisions will put GPB’s reputation to question and may violate the labor rights of its journalists,” the Tranasparency-Georgia said.
The Free Democrats, who also commented on the matter, said that the plan “endangers the major value of democracy – freedom of speech” and aims at “silencing critical voices.”
“According to Vasil Maglaperidze’s plans, talk shows will not be broadcast either during the constitutional reform process, nor in the period of municipal elections. This means that the public broadcaster will stop fulfilling its legal duties, which, in the first hand … [is the obligation] to cover political, economic and social processes in a timely and objective manner,” the Free Democrats said.
GPB’s eight-member board of trustees will convene to discuss Maglaperidze’s action plan on February 10. Before then, all programs will continue to be broadcast, according to Grigol Gogelia, who heads the the board of trustees.
The board of trustees elected Vasil Maglaperidze, former lawmaker and governor of Mtskheta-Mtianeti region in 2005-2008, who most recently worked for GDS TV, owned by former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s family, as GPB’s new director general on January 6. On February 3, the announcement was made that 100% shares of GDS TV were bought by the Georgian Media Production Group. The Group, headed by Irina Gudavadze, widow of the deceased billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, now controls the large media conglomerate uniting the assets of Imedi TV, GDS TV and smaller Maestro TV acquired by Imedi TV earlier. Imedi TV`s editorial positions are close to the ruling Georgian Dream party.