The Board of Advisors of Adjara TV and Radio Company, a publicly-funded broadcaster based in Batumi, decided at its session on April 19 to dismiss Natia Kapanadze as the broadcaster’s director.
Four out of five members of the board voted in favor of Kapanadze’s dismissal through a secret ballot, and the remaining one voted against. The broadcaster will announce within 10 ten days a competition to select a new director. Until then, Natia Zoidze, former deputy director, will serve as an acting director.
Prior to making a decision, the advisory board held a public session, which was also attended by representatives of local civil society organizations. Two board members – Giga Chkhartishvili and Irakli Dartsmelidze – who lodged a complaint requesting Kapanadze’s impeachment, accused her of mismanagement of public funds, neglecting program priorities, shortcomings in organizational and human resource management, and closure of highly rated programs.
“The hype about some kind of attack against freedom of speech is absolutely unwarranted; editorial policy and freedom of speech is not threatened,” they said.
Bezhan Gobadze, a member of the advisory board, slammed the process as “orchestrated,” saying that the director should have been notified about alleged problems beforehand and the issue of her impeachment should have been raised only if no corrective action had been taken.
Commenting on the allegations, Natia Kapanadze said that all documents concerning the priorities, as well as monitoring and control of budget fulfillment were available to everyone and that she was ready to discuss the issues with all parties concerned.
Kapanadze also said after the meeting that “certain people do not need our editorial policy, our independence,” adding that she would challenge the decision in court.
Rusudan Imedaishvili, chair of the advisory board, also commented on the matter, saying that “some problems existed” in the broadcaster and they needed timely solution.
The board decision was slammed by a group of five Georgian CSOs, including the Transparency International Georgia. The organizations said Kapanadze’s dismissal “strengthens doubts about possible political interference.” “Unfortunately, this process is a continuation of the negative trend that has been underway in the country and that has aimed at worsening the media environment,” reads their statement.
A complaint requesting Kapanadze’s impeachment was lodged with the board of advisors on April 10, triggering criticism from Georgian CSOs and media watchdogs.
Representatives of international organizations, as well as the EU and U.S. Ambassadors to Georgia also commented on the issue, saying that they are following the developments closely.
A part of the broadcaster’s employees held a news briefing on April 18, accusing Natia Kapanadze of “faulty management” and making “unilateral decisions.” Some former employees of the broadcaster also attended the briefing, claiming Kapanadze dismissed them “unlawfully.”
On April 19, thirteen cameramen from the same TV Company went on a strike demanding pay rise. They claimed the director and members of the advisory board were informed about the demand, but no action was taken.
Kapanadze was elected to the post in October 2016, and her three-year term was to expire in October 2019.