Kibar Khalvashi has applied to the National Public Registry (NAPR) and has been registered as the new owner of Rustavi 2 TV, Georgia’s most-watched television broadcaster. The registry note says he owns 60% of the shares personally, and the remaining 40% – via a limited liability company “Panorama”.
The decision comes shortly after today’s ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled “to discontinue” suspension of the enforcement of the Georgian Supreme Court’s decision of March 2017, which granted the ownership rights of Rustavi 2 TV to its former co-owner, Khalvashi.
In a statement released immediately after the Court ruling was published, Khalvashi said that the ECHR had “finally ended” his multi-year dispute “for restoration of justice and confirmed that the March 2, 2017 ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia was absolutely legal.”
“There is no doubt that I am the single legal owner of Rustavi 2 TV and that this company had been seized by [ex-President] Mikheil Saakashvili and the United National Movement.,” Khalvashi said, adding that the Government of Georgian “is obliged to immediately enforce the Supreme Court ruling through which I returned my TV company back.”
According to Khalvashi, he does not intend to interfere in the TV channel’s editorial policy. “Freedom of speech and expression will be guaranteed. I will not interfere in journalists’ professional activities. Simultaneously, I will care for the staff’s professional development and promote them in this respect,” he said.
“I hope that the Rustavi 2 TV staff will meet the ECHR ruling with adequate understanding, continue their professional activities and we all will care together to ensure that Rustavi 2 TV is a successful and popular channel,” Khalvashi stated.
Gvaramia to go?
However, Khalvashi said he intends to sack Rustavi 2 TV Director General Nika Gvaramia, “who has been appointed by the regime [of Mikheil Saakashvili], which seized my TV company, will not be able to continue his work either as a journalist or – naturally – as the Director general.”
Khalvashi noted that the company will be managed by his lawyer, Paata Salia, “who will have to fulfill a clear task – to ensure unhindered work of the TV channel and to study the financial situation in the company.” For this, according to Khalvashi, Salia will invite “a reputable international audit company.”
At a news briefing following the Court ruling, Nika Gvaramia said the judgement was “shocking” and “absolutely unimaginable”. He pledged to continue “the battle” for Rustavi 2 and announced his intention to appeal ECHR Chamber ruling to the Grand Chamber of the EHCR.
Rustavi 2 journalists issued a statement backing Gvaramia, saying that the change of management and sacking of Director General would represent “a first step towards the change of editorial policy”.