Dozens of employees of Adjara TV and Radio Company, Batumi based public broadcaster, held a silent protest on February 28 in the channel’s newsroom to express their protest against the new management’s interference in the broadcaster’s editorial policy. “There is State Security Service in Adjara TV,” read the posters of journalists, protesting in silence.
“We have been reiterating for several months that there is an open storm against the broadcaster’s [independent] editorial policy. People [employees of the TV] are being persecuted in various forms, blackmailed and dismissed from jobs,” said Teona Bakuridze, anchor of the main news program.
“The broadcaster’s director and three members of the Board of Advisers from Georgian Dream [ruling party] are involved in it,” she added.
The Adjara TV staff’s protest came after Shorena Glonti was dismissed as head of newsroom early on February 28, after disciplinary procedures were launched against her.
Journalists from various broadcasters and online media outlets expressed solidarity to the Adjara TV staff, protesting against the attempts to impose censorship on and interfere in the broadcaster’s editorial policy.
Prior developments at Adjara TV
On February 19, the Board of Adjara TV accepted the proposal by Giorgi Kokhreidze, the director, to abolish four positions of deputy heads, among them the position of deputy head of newsroom. Maia Merkviladze, who held the latter position, and simultaneously served as a news editor, was officially dismissed.
Kokhreidze, the broadcaster’s director said the changes were needed for more efficient management of the TV channel. Protesting journalists do not agree with the director, however, stating that Merkviladze, together with Glonti, were the key figures in maintaining independent editorial policy in the channel newsroom. Merkviladze stressed that her dismissal from the newsroom by the director served the purpose of removing her from critical news making process.
Merkviladze was offered to work as a producer of non-existent talk show or as an editor of radio newsroom. She accepted the proposal and stayed in the broadcaster. However, the new position is not ‘equivalently’ powerful to her prior role, said Merkviladze.
On the position of news editor, Merkviladze was replaced by Nino Khazhomia, journalist by the director’s decision of February 24. Noteworthy, Khazhomia left the position on February 28, four days after the appointment. Adjara TV journalist Piruz Bolkvadze has temporarily replaced her. The latter also participated in the competition on selection of the broadcaster’s director.
On February 25, Nino Khozrevanidze, journalist of Adjara TV’s Tbilisi Bureau, also quit her position as a sign of protest. She addressed a letter to the broadcaster’s director Kokhreidze accusing him of deliberately destructing the idea of a [public] broadcaster. “The processes are so much irreversible that I do not see any sense to stay for the sake of a salary, as working under your management is unacceptable for me,” she wrote.
Earlier, on February 2, Natia Zoidze resigned as deputy director of Adjara TV, saying that it was not “a voluntary process.” She was replaced by Vakhtang Khuzmiashvili, journalist and former head of Iberia TV’s newsroom.
Amid recent developments at Adjara TV, a part of its employees launched preparations for a strike. The alternative trade union, that was set up in the end of January, has already applied to the broadcaster’s management for this purpose.
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 TV channel’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 National Movement.