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Public TV Show in Limbo after Church Meddling
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 17 Jan.'09 / 14:13

The public TV’s board has recommended suspending the broadcaster’s popular show Great Ten – the TV project designed to find the greatest Georgians through polling – after the Georgian Orthodox Church said “the format was unacceptable.”

The TV show and the voting were launched in November and 500 original candidates were initially whittled down to 100 and then to 50; 13 out of 50 shortlisted are saints from 19, which featured in the list of 100. No living figures were included in the list.

About 300,000 people voted by phone, the internet or via text messages in the poll up to now, the organizers have said.

The Georgian Orthodox Church said in a statement on January 10, more than two months after the launch of the project, that the format of the TV show wherein “spiritual figures are contesting with secular figures is unacceptable.”

“We have no concerns in respect of secular figures [contesting with each other], but such an approach towards the saints is unjustified,” the statement said, adding that the Church was in negotiations with the public TV board of trustees and the top management to reach “desirable results” on the matter.

The announcement by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which continues to exert a considerable amount of influence over the public life, made the public TV leadership to delay airing of the TV show in its usual format; instead the program on January 16 featured a debate on the matter. The live TV debates involved representatives from the Church and its position’s supporters and critics of the Church’s position.

During the program, the chairman of public TV’s board, Levan Gakheladze, announced the board’s decision saying that it was recommending suspending the show pending further considerations on the matter. He said that this “compromise decision” was taken with majority vote in the nine-member board.

Gakheladze also said he personally was against of such decision, adding that “such ‘compromise decision’ was alarming for him.”

Irma Sokhadze, member of the board, said during the debates that the board was in “very difficult situation” and “in a deadlock,” adding that on the one hand the board members were in favor of the program, but on the other hand were facing insistence from the Church. She intended to use the word “pressure” – when referring to the Church’s insistence, but then said: “I do not want to use this word – pressure.”

The announcement of the board’s decision triggered an angry reaction from critics of the Church’s position. Davit Paichadze, a journalist who hosts a program in the public radio, said decision to suspend the show “would mean that the Church has prevailed over the law.” “Such decision will be defeat of the entire public broadcaster,” he said.

Marina Vekua, a member of the public TV board, said although she was in favor of the program, she could not ignore the recommendation of the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, with whom the board members met on the matter.

And another member of the board, Mikheil Chiaureli, said: “The opinion of the Patriarch is more important for me than the law.”

By the end of a two and a half hour long debates, general director of the public TV, Levan Kubaneishvili, told the audience that despite the board of trustees’ recommendation, the management had decided “not to take any decision hurriedly.”

“We still need some time to take a decision on how to proceed further with the project and we need more consultations with all the parties involved, including with the staff of the project,” Kubaneishvili said, but failed to specify at this stage when the final decision was expected.

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