Paata Salia, the new director general of Rustavi 2 TV, one of Georgia’s most-watched television broadcasters, announced the dismissal of the head of TV’s News Department Nodar Meladze, news producer Giorgi Laperashvili, hosts of political talk shows Eka Kvesitadze and Giorgi Gabunia as well as Nanuka Zhorzholiani, the host of entertaining program due to “conflict of interests.”
At a news briefing on August 20, Paata Salia named the public statements of the journalists against the new owner of Rustavi 2 TV, Kibar Khalvashi, among the reasons of the conflict of interest. He said it is not right that a person, who is working on the channel “wants to change the TV owner and spares no efforts to achieve that.”
He also stated that the above persons were receiving additional financial benefits from the management, thus “people who are obliged by others” cannot be loyal to the channel, and, therefore, they cannot work at Rustavi 2 TV anymore.
We do not need internal confrontations. We want the company to be united into one core team, where everyone does their own job and there will be no attempt to quit during a heated TV season”, Salia said, expressing his willingness to meet with every employee to agree on new working conditions, which “will not be worse than it is today.”
Although Salia did not specify who will replace Nodar Meladze, he said s/he will be an acceptable person for the team. He also underscored that the new management aims to ensure that its main news program “Kirieri” remains “critical, but well-argumented.”
He then reiterated that Rustavi 2 will not fulfil ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s duties, and promised the team not to interfere in their independence and editorial policy.
Nodar Meladze said he was informed of his dismissal not long before Salia’s news briefing in the noon. He said two weeks after Khalvashi was registered as the new owner of Rustavi 2 TV, a representative of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party chairperson Bidzina Ivanishvili offered him a certain bargain in order to retain his post.
Meladze said, he was told that “no Imedi TV would be made from Rustavi 2” and that the TV channel would remain critical to some extent, however, Meladze should have agreed and arranged news bulletins with that person.
I was also told that it was in Bidzina Ivanishvili’s interests to make reports on possible corrupt bargains as he fights against the thieves of the budget himself, however, there were certain issues that we should not have touched,” Meladze said, noting that following his refusal, new owners of the television froze his salary.
Meladze thinks that the decision to dismiss the staff belongs to the ruling party and Bidzina Ivanishvili. “The audience will not immediately see what it is like to have “Kurieri” flirting with the Governance because they will do it gradually and from January 2020, unfortunately, the territory of freedom, like “Kurieri” and Rustavi 2, will be destroyed step-by-step,” he stated.
Anchors of “Kurieri” quit
Following Salia’s decision to dismiss some of the employees earlier on August 20, the anchors of 9pm “Kurieri” Diana Jojua and Mikheil Sesiashvili announced that they quit.
In her introductory speech Jojua, who anchored the news program for 13 years, said she is “forced to say goodbye” as she cannot stay on the channel that belongs “to the main servant of the Kremlin in this country, Bidzina Ivanishvili.”
Jojua said they fought, but Ivanishvili “managed to finally occupy the channel” and deprive them of the freedom of speech. “I will not work for the television from where I cannot tell what is really happening in the country,” she addressed the audience, hoping to greet them from another channel.
Mikheil Sesiashvili, who has also worked at Rustavi 2 for over 12 years, said “the red lines have been crossed and the total cleaning is underway” in the television. “Today, I quit from Rustavi 2, but I hope that we will meet again… The fight for a better future, for free Georgia… will continue,” he stated.
9pm “Kurieri” ended immediately after the anchors finished their speeches, without broadcasting any news. The new owner of the TV channel, Kibar Khalvashi wrote on his Facebook page that the anchors’ decision to quit “was no surprise,” and that “everything will be all right.” On his part, the former director general Nika Gvaramia said he is “expecting everyone” on his newly established television.