Court Suspends Imedi TV Broadcast License

Imedi TV was providing extensive
coverage of the recent protest rallies in Tbilisi. Photo: Civil.Ge/Anano Asatiani.

Tbilisi City Court has suspended Imedi TV’s broadcast license, claiming that the station’s coverage of the November 7 unrest amounted to incitement to overthrow the government. The court also ruled that the station’s assets be frozen.

The court, in justification for its ruling, cited Imedi TV’s decision to read out on air statements from Badri Patarkatsishvili (co-owner of Imedi TV), which, according to the court’s ruling, contained calls to overthrow the government.

“An official notification, which is a ruling of the Tbilisi City Court, was handed over to me late last night,” Bidzina Baratashvili, Imedi TV managing director, told Civil.Ge on November 14. “The document is dated November 7; an investigator, however, told me that he had failed to give me the document earlier because of the chaos and unrest.”

“We plan to appeal the ruling in a higher court,” Baratashvili said. “We have already raised the issue with Mathew Bryza [the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs] at a meeting today.”

Imedi TV has been off the air since a November 7 police raid on the studio. A ruling party official has claimed that Imedi TV – also co-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – was the propaganda wing of alleged coup plotters financed by Patarkatsishvili and supported by the Russian intelligence service. The authorities have been claiming that through its inflammatory news coverage, Imedi TV was inciting unrest.

Martin Pompadur, the executive vice-president of News Corp. and the chairman of the company’s European arm, said on November 14 that the allegations against Imedi were “ ridiculous.”

“Given that News Corp. has been a partner in Imedi for over a year, a News Corp executive Lewis Robertson has been CEO of Imedi since last year and News Corp accepted total management control of the station on 31 October 2007, to accuse Imedi is to accuse News Corp,” Pompadur was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP). “To allege that News Corp. is involved in a Russian-backed coup in Georgia is beyond ludicrous.”

Meanwhile, Mathew Bryza has been pushing for the restoration of  media freedoms. Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on November 14 – his second in two consecutive days – Bryza said: “First of all we need to have a decision out there to get Imedi back on air and that’s what we are working very hard [on] right now.”

Bryza presumably spoke knowing of the court ruling on Imedi TV, because he met with Baratashvili prior to the press conference.

“I do not want to raise expectations too high [about a quick restoration of Imedi broadcasting], but I feel some movements, melting of the ice,” he said.

He then returned to a theme he had addressed at the press conference the previous day – professional journalism.

“To make that happen [the lifting of press restrictions] we have to work with both the government and Imedi management and opposition to ensure that broadcasting in this country will be objective and reflect all of the political views, including all of the opposition views, including government views,” Bryza said. “There is a perception in the Georgian society of a problem with TV being subjective, depending on where you are in the political system you might think Rustavi 2 [TV] is too biased in favor of government… or you might think that Imedi [TV] is too anti-government, or as the government has said, inciting people to violence.”

He also said that the damage inflicted on the Imedi studios during a police raid on November 7 should be compensated. “And I’ve heard people in the [Georgian] government saying that they recognize it as well,” Bryza added.

Imedi’s continuing closure poses a major setback for the opposition in the run up to the January 5 presidential elections.

“Talks with the parliamentary speaker [Nino Burjanadze] will apparently take place on November 15 and Imedi TV will be high on our [the opposition’s] agenda during these talks,” MP Kakha Kukava, a lawmaker from the opposition Conservative Party, told Civil.Ge on November 14.

Meanwhile, the situation surrounding Kavkasia TV, another pro-opposition television station put off the air on November 7, also remains unclear. Kavkasia TV covers only the capital, Tbilisi. 

“We are ready to resume broadcasting, but I was told by the Tbilisi TV tower management that it depends on when the get the permission to broadcast our TV signal," Davit Akubardia, a founder and anchor of Kavkasia TV, told Civil.Ge on November 14. "But it’s unclear who should give such permission. No one has even explained to us why we were taken off the air.”

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