The Media Advocacy Coalition, a group of over ten watchdog and media organizations, have addressed international organizations over “alarming” processes developing at Adjara TV and Radio company based in Georgia’s coastal city of Batumi, noting that the current situation “involves the risks of violation of both media freedom and human rights.”
Since April 2019, the doubts about attempted disruption of the channel’s independent editorial policy are being intensified on a daily basis. Today, there is a real threat that a newly appointed Board of Advisers and the management appointed by it will change the staffing policy and distance a part of employees from the editorial policy,” the statement released by the Coalition on February 14 reads.
The Coalition’s member organizations claim that they will again defend the idea of public broadcaster within their competence. They ask international partner organizations for help in ensuring their freedom of expression.
Later on the same day, two local watchdogs, Transparency International Georgia and Georgian Young Lawyers Association released separate statements regarding the developments at Adjara TV. They expressed solidarity to Adjara TV’s staff and expressed their commitment to defending their interests once they need it.
Prior to the NGO statements, Teona Bakuridze, anchor of Adjara TV’s main news program, posted on her Facebook page on February 14 that Adjara TV’s Board of Advisers and the Director were involved “in persecuting undesirable people.”
Last December, a couple of days after the new director was elected, a group of the channel’s journalists held a protest rally, demanding him to stop “attacks on employees, their discrediting and groundless accusations.”
Teona Bakuridze said that disciplinary procedures have been launched against Shorena Glonti, head of newsroom. She also noted that the positions of deputies, including the position of deputy head of newsroom, who simultaneously is editor of news program, will be abolished.
“The Director does not fulfill the priority regarding investigative journalism. He does not do outsourcing of the priority program, claiming that it can be prepared within the TV channel, but it is obscure what particular resources he will use for this purpose. He cites the election year as the reason, as well as the risk that the United National Movement [Georgia’s former ruling party in 2004-2012 – editorial note] might win the competition,” the anchor writes.
TV’s alternative trade union’s statement
Bakuridze’s announcement prompted Adjara TV’s alternative trade union to release a statement on February 14 regarding the political processes and unresolved problems persisting at Adjara TV.
In this situation, a diligent work over the editorial policy creates concrete imagination about the management’s priorities. It is an interesting coincidence that the decisions made by the broadcaster’s management mainly concern our members that makes us think that just our critical positions and attempts of self-organization have intensified a sense of discontent,” reads the statement released by the alternative trade unions.
The alternative trade union said that if the activities of their members are still hampered, they will act according to the law and apply to the Prosecutor’s Office.
“Any attempt to intimidate the employees will prove unsuccessful. We will not give up editorial independence, we will not yield to the broadcaster’s regress, we will struggle for our own rights and better public broadcaster,” noted the alternative trade union.
The Board of Advisors of Adjara TV and Radio company elected Giorgi Kokhreidze as the new director of the broadcaster for a term of three years on November 22, 2019 He was supported by three out of four members of the board. All the three members were nominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The post of Adjara TV’s director became vacant in April 2019 after the Board of Advisers impeached Natia Kapanadze that triggered strong criticism from local non-governmental organizations. They claimed that the ruling party was against the broadcaster’s critical editorial policy and that it tried to change the broadcaster’s editorial line.
The ruling party members have openly expressed discontent with Adjara TV’s editorial policy on various occasions. Tornike Rizhvadze, head of government of Autonomous Republic of Adjara, and Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the ruling party, were among them. Earlier, Parliament’s ex-Speaker, Irakli Kobakhidze also called on Adjara TV journalist for “distancing” from the United National Movement.