Vasil Maglaperidze, 2017. Photo: GPB
Vasil Maglaperidze, Director General of the publicly-funded Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), responded to the public row over the termination of the InterVIEW and the Red Zone, two of its television programs produced by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Georgian Service, saying the shutdown is part of bigger television “renewal” plans.
“If one wants to assess the situation correctly, we should be speaking of all the programs and not only of the two. The Public Broadcaster is currently undergoing a big renewal: the entire programming is being changed, new programs are introduced … some programs will be updated. Nothing will remain in its current form,” Maglaperidze said in his interview published by GPB on June 19.
“I do not think it is right to separate these two programs: all programs together make the television and we need to look at the whole picture,” Maglaperidze said, adding that desire of the new management to substitute and change programs “requires no clarification.”
The Director General spoke specifically on the two RFE/RL programs as well, stressing that they are not “jointly produced” and that the Public Broadcaster “is only tasked to air them.” “[Now] GPB is only a platform and nothing else, which we are not interested in.”
Maglaperidze also underlined that the Broadcaster “did not shut the programs down,” but “simply, refused to prolong the contracts, according to which, GPB’s only function was to serve as a silent platform.”
The Director General, however, added that GPB remains open for joint programs with other media outlets, including with RFE/RL. “GPB has much bigger potential and it can contribute important intellectual resources in joint productions.”
Political Party, Civil Society Reactions
Termination of the InterVIEW and the Red Zone has raised questions among opposition political parties and civil society organizations.
The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics issued a statement on June 14, expressing “concern” over the termination and calling on the GPB management to “revise” the decision.
“The Charter’s Board believes that maintaining both programs are extremely important, since the Red Zone and the InterVIEW offered highly professional and diverse media products to its viewers,” the organization said.
Similar points were voiced by a group of five civil society organizations (CSOs), including the Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the Media Advocacy Coalition.
“We the undersigned believe that the shutdown of RFE/RL programs may be related to the desire of the government to eliminate critical viewpoints from the Broadcaster, and [the decision] raises doubts about the political interests of the GPB management to shut down the programs,” the organizations wrote in their June 15 statement.
The CSOs added that the two programs are “of exceptional political and social importance, critical to the state structures and political processes.” “Against this background, termination of these programs using general and abstract arguments, that the management does not want to outsource political programs, seems to be groundless and arbitrary.”
The Free Democrats and the Republican Party were critical of the decision as well. The two parties released a joint statement on June 16, saying the decision “hampers” the channel’s development, “restricts” freedoms of speech, thought and expression, and “deliberately terminates the ideological and conceptual support of Georgia’s European integration.”
“With this decision, the GPB management serves the [interests of] government, which aims at monopolizing the media environment, restriction of critical opinion and freedom of speech. Following the complete takeover of several large TV companies, the government is now trying to force GPB to give up its independence and betray its main purpose and stop serving to the public,” the statement reads.
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, was elected GPB’s new Director General on January 6.
The GPB Board of Trustees and its new management agreed on March 7 that GPB, which runs two television channels and two radio stations, would shut all TV and radio programming, except its news program, beginning from July 17, 2017.
The Public Broadcasted announced on June 13 that the contract signed on December 12, 2015 with RFE/RL is to expire in mid-July and that the two programs - the Red Zone and the InterVIEW - will no longer be aired by the station.