Police officers stand on November 30 in front of a three-storey house in Tbilisi, which is an office of the Maestro TV station. Photo: InterPressNews
Tbilisi-based Maestro TV fails to resume its regular programming as standoff between owners and founder of its managing firm continues for the second day.
Mamuka Glonti, co-owner of the TV station, together with some staff members are in the station’s control room and Erosi Kitsmarishvili, founder of the station’s managing firm, together with a group of his security guard are in the rest of the station’s premises. Kitsmarishvili says that he, as a representative of the managing firm, has sacked Glonti from the post of the station’s producer and he should immediately leave the station’s office. Kitsmarishvili also says that he has dismissed the station’s general director Bacho (Ilia) Kikabidze.
Glonti says that under the November, 2009 contract with the managing firm, Kitsmarishvili had no right to unilaterally sack top management without prior agreement with the station’s co-owners. Glonti also says that Kitsmarishvili illegally broke into the TV station’s premises, which is his and the station’s other co-owners private property and calls on the police to force him out of the station. The police, who are present on the scene, say they do not meddle in the conflict between the parties and are there to only prevent any physical clashes between the sides. One of the co-owners of the station, Levan Chikvaidze, said on Thursday morning that he was barred from entering the station’s premises.
On Thursday morning Kitsmarishvili warned Glonti to leave the control room and the newsroom, otherwise threatened to evict them.
“Although we had all the resources to evict sacked staff members, including Glonti from the area they are blocking, we have not done that. Now I am telling them to leave the area they are blocking, leave the territory of the television and start negotiations either directly or with civil society’s mediation. If they reject this proposal today, we will use our resources to force them out of the [TV station’s premises] in order to secure the station’s normal work,” Kitsmarishvili told journalists on December 1.
“I am not going to negotiate with him, especially after threatening to force me out of the TV station,” Glonti responded from the Maestro TV’s studio.
Bacho Kikabidze, the general director of Maestro TV whom Kitsmarishvili claims had sacked, says that his lawyers would request the chief prosecutor’s office to launch criminal proceedings against Kitsmarishvili.
“He [Kitsmarishvili] is not authorized to sack me and can never do that. We are today appealing the prosecutor’s office to launch criminal proceedings against Kitsmarishvili as he broke into a private property. If he uses force to evict people from [the control room and newsroom] it will be yet another criminal act by Kitsmarishvili,” Kikabidze said in comments aired by the Maestro TV on Thursday morning.
In official papers, available at the Pubic Registry Agency, Kikabidze is still registered as the director of Maestro TV.
Kitsmarishvili argues that the co-owners of the Maestro TV were trying to unjustifiably sideline him and his managing firm from the TV station’s affaires. He has suggested that the owners’ intention was to suspend a contract with him so that to pave way for a potential deal with billionaire-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has publicly announced about willingness to buy the television station; but Ivanishvili also made it clear that he would not cooperate with Kitsmarishvili. Co-owner of Maestro TV, Mamuka Glonti, has denied having intention to sell shares to Ivanishvili.
Some observers suggest that Kitsmarishvili, who claims to have attracted USD 4.5 million into the TV station since taking over its management in 2009, decided to move in aggressively fearing of being sideline of a potential lucrative deal with Ivanishvili. But other observers and many journalists of the Maestro TV suggest that Kitsmarishvili could not have done it without receiving a tacit backing from the authorities and the move might be part of a plot aiming at seizing control over Maestro TV, which is one of the two Tbilisi-based TV stations critical to the authorities.
Ivanishvili’s press office released a statement on November 30 “expressing solidarity to journalists of Maestro TV” and condemning “hindering journalistic work.” “Journalists should be allowed to continue their work in a normal mode and issues of dispute should be resolved in a civilized manner,” the statement reads.
Shares in the Maestro TV are distributed between several individuals. 25% of Maestro TV’s shares are owned by Giorgi Gachechiladze, brother of an opposition figure Levan Gachechiladze. 25% of Maestro TV’s are owned by Maka Asatiani, Gachechiladze’s long-time friend. The rest of the shares are divided between four original founders of the TV station with three of them holding 15% of shares – Glonti is among them – and one holding 5%.
On November 26, three days before the row in Maestro TV started, an agreement was signed between Gachechiladze and four original founders of the station according to which Gachechiladze is handing management rights of his 25% over to the station’s director Bacho Kikabidze. According to the same contract Gachechiladze’s 25% of shares would be sold to four original founders no later than December 10, 2012, after the term of three-year contract with Kitsmarishvili’s managing firm expires.