Former and current employees of Adjara TV and Radio Company, Batumi based public broadcaster, including its former head of newsroom Shorena Glonti, her former deputy Maia Merkviladze (who was downgraded to another position) and Teona Bakuridze, who was recently temporarily suspended from anchoring of the main news program, have announced they will launch a legal dispute against TV’s management to protect their rights within the next few days. Human Rights and Monitoring Center (EMC), a Tbilisi-based human rights watchdog, will protect their rights in court.
At a news briefing held on March 9, EMC stated that Adjara TV management’s decisions were questionable from both, political and labor rights perspectives. EMC spoke of “blatant violation of labor rights,” as well as “clear signs of undermining TV’s editorial independence and gaining control over it.”
“The chain of unfair decisions by the TV management and a harsh working environment at the broadcaster raise well-grounded fears among the journalists and the TV personnel that the practice of dismissing independent staff and intervening in the editorial policy will continue, and that this will eventually lead to establishing governmental control over the TV channel,” EMC stated.
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In this regard, EMC representative cited the developments at Adjara TV since spring 2019, including “groundless” impeachment of the broadcaster’s former director Natia Kapanadze, Giorgi Kokhreidze’s election made possible through “problematic rules and procedures,” as well as the statements of the ruling Georgian Dream party chairperson Bidzina Ivanishvili slammed Adjara TV staff. This, EMC believes, demonstrates the Georgian Government’s intention to gain control over the broadcaster in quest of further weakening critical and independent media space.
Maia Merkviladze said at the news briefing that without the backing from the government officials, Giorgi Kokhreidze and his three advisors “would not have managed to handle the processes in a manner in which they happen in the broadcaster at the moment.”
Teona Bakuridze reiterated the claims, saying that the new management of Adjara TV disfavor’s broadcaster’s existing editorial policy and tries to change it. She noted that the recent cases of dismissing and/or transferring “the newsroom key figures” to other positions of less importance serves as yet another evidence to those attempts.
Earlier Developments at Adjara TV
On March 6, Teona Bakuridze received an order from Adjara TV director Giorgi Kokhreidze of her temporary dismissal, allegedly due to the former’s disobedience, failure to perform her official duties and putting pressure on acting head of newsroom Giorgi Abazadze.
Earlier, on February 28, headed by Bakuridze, dozens of employees of Adjara TV held a silent protest in the channel’s newsroom, expressing their protest against the new management’s interference in the broadcaster’s editorial policy.
Prior to that, 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 position, and simultaneously served as a news editor, was officially dismissed.
Merkviladze was offered to work as either a producer of forthcoming talk show or as an editor of radio newsroom. Although she accepted the proposal and stayed in the broadcaster, Merkviladze stated that the new position was not ‘equivalently’ powerful to her prior role.
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On February 24, Kokhreidze decided to replace Merkviladze by non-Adjara TV journalist Nino Khazhomia as the news editor. 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.
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.
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 Georgian Dream party members have openly expressed their discontent with Adjara TV’s editorial policy on various occasions and accused them of having bias towards former ruling party. 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, influential MP from the Georgian Dream, also called on Adjara TV journalist for “distancing” from the United National Movement, former ruling party.