The decision made by the Finance Ministry’s Revenue Service on December 24 to levy the accounts of three TV channels – Pirveli, Kavkasia and Rustavi 2, due to their debts accumulated since October 1, has triggered strong criticism among opposition, media and civil society.
A day before imposing the sanction, the Finance Ministry released a special statement, warning the televisions about their debts to the state budget and giving them one day for paying them off.
Representatives of Kavkasia TV and TV Pirveli said that the government puts “critically-disposed” televisions under “unequal” conditions, adding that Imedi TV, Rustavi 2 and Maestro TV, who are loyal towards the government, have the debts totaling GEL 55 million; however, their accounts have not been levied.
“It is nothing but reprisal against critical media. Rustavi 2 was simply added as an alibi to claim that they do not fight only against media critical [towards the government]… It is nothing but interference with the activities of TV Pirveli and Kavkasia… In fact, independent media is in a very grave financial situation and it is largely due to the government’s policy,” Nino Jangirashvili, director general of Kavkasia TV, said.
Nana Aburjanidze, commercial director of TV Pirveli, also slammed the decision on levying the accounts as “unfair.”
“It is unfair, when the accounts of other televisions with GEL 55 million debt are not levied and our request for preferential debt payment was rejected,” she said.
Paata Salia, director general of Rustavi 2 TV, also commented on the issue, noting that “it is an absolutely irresponsible action as it may hamper the TV channel’s activities. We, the management, are doing our best to avoid it.”
Commenting on the sanctions against three TV channels, Georgian Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze called for avoiding the politicization of the issue, explaining that it should be settled between a tax authority and a media company.
Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, who simultaneously serves as Georgian Dream’s secretary general, said that he is not familiar with the issue, but stressed that all debts should be paid off. “Why should a television function at the expense of people? It is not correct,” Kaladze said.
Opposition politicians slammed the decision on levying the accounts as a pressure by the government.
MP Elene Khoshtaria of European Georgia said that it is not a financial issue, but rather the way “to suffocate media.”
MP Tina Bokuchava of the United National Movement noted that the government and Bidzina Ivanishvili [chairman of the ruling party] are trying to restrict critical media outlets as much as possible and that they are using all state levers for this purpose.
Political movement “Lelo for Georgia” also released a statement today, calling on the government “not to obstruct the functioning of independent TV channels, to move the process of negotiations to the regime of dialogue rather than ultimatums and reject selective approaches.”
Protest of civil society
Civic activists held protest rallies outside the offices of Kavkasia TV and TV Pirveli to express solidarity to them. The protesters were holding banners reading “Pressure on media is a shame,” “You cannot silence us,” “Freedom to media.”
Giga Makarashvili, one of the activists of movement “It’s a shame,” said that “this is a method of Georgian Dream, that does not like free media critically disposed [towards them].”
In a statement released on December 26, Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Open Society Georgia Foundation and other civil society organizations, called on the Finance Ministry “to create equal tax conditions for broadcasters and make the process of payment of budgetary debts transparent and fair.”
Position of media organizations
Representatives of media organizations claimed that the issue of televisions’ debts is solved in a selective manner and that the government employs strict measures against critical media outlets.
Journalist Ninia Kakabadze said that “we are dealing with selective justice, selective attitude towards various televisions.”
Tamar Kintsurashvili, head of the Media Development Foundation, noted that “it is a selective approach because the government takes stricter measures towards critical media outlets than towards the loyal ones.”