In an article published on February 28, the Georgian daily Rezonansi (Resonance) says that the government’s control over private television stations has increased enormously after the new leadership took power as a result of the 2003 Rose Revolution.
According to the newspaper, the authorities can guarantee that developments in the country will be presented in a positive light by the various television stations, as they control all the leading television stations, including Rustavi 2, Imedi (Hope), Mze (Sun) and the State Television.
The Rezonansi says that currently most of the shares of the Rustavi 2 television company, which played a crucial role in endorsing and supporting the Rose Revolution, are owned by businessman Khibar Khalvashi - a close friend of Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili. On the other hand, the General Director of the company is ex-Deputy Foreign Minister Nika Tabatadze.
“Although technically the investigative TV program on Rustavi 2 60 Minutes still exists the materials prepared by the journalists for this program are presently tabled, though the staff of the program still receives salaries,” the newspaper reads.
In previous years, 60 Minutes played an important role in revealing many of the wrongdoings being committed by ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze’s government officials.
The Rezonansi continues by claiming that the government can fully control Imedi television as well. The owner and founder of the Imedi TV company is influential financial tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is wanted by Russia for fraud allegations. “The Georgian government holds all the aces because of this fact [that Patarkatsishvili is wanted by Russia],” the Rezonansi reads.
According to the newspaper, 50% of shares of the Mze television company are currently owned by Davit Bezhuashvili, a businessman and parliamentarian. He is the brother of Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council Gela Bezhuashvili. The other 50% is owned by another parliamentarian, Vano Chkhartishvili, according to the Rezonansi.
“There are rumors that relations between Chkhartishvili and Bezhuashvili are strained; as a result, journalists at the Mze television are sometimes confused how to cover certain developments, so as to not anger either owner of the company,” the Rezonansi writes.
The TV coverage regarding the developments that unfolded in South Ossetia last August, when clashes broke out in the breakaway region between the Ossetian militias and Georgian troops, demonstrated this increase in governmental control over the television stations, according to the Rezonansi. “Even airing footage depicting the funerals of those Georgian soldiers who died in those clashes was banned by the government, which cited national interests [as their reason for this ban],” the paper reads.
The Rezonansi continues that Irakli Imnaishvili, anchor of a political talk-show aired on the Mze TV, began recieving a lot of pressure from the government after he invited independent forensic expert Maia Nikoleishvili to comment about the official cause of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania’s sudden death. After Maia Nikoleishvili voiced doubts about the official results “the program was on the verge of closure; however, the authorities avoided a scandal. But now they fully control [the anchor of the program Irakli] Imnaishvili,” the Rezonansi writes.