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CSOs Address Int’l Community over ‘Alarming Processes’ at Adjara TV

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A group of 33 Georgian human rights and media watchdogs have jointly addressed international community to voice their “extreme concern over the alarming processes” taking place in connection with the Adjara TV and Radio Company, a Batumi-based public broadcaster. The group entreated the international partners to take measures within their remit in order to support the [editorial] independence of the Adjara TV.

In an open statement released on March 17, the group called on the international community to:

  1. actively engage and examine the processes related to “the violation of political, editorial and labor rights” at the Adjara TV, and raise the issue of the broadcaster with the Government of Georgia in all relevant political and international formats;
  2. take “all appropriate measures”, including issuing a public statement and/or an appeal to the government, to safeguard “the rights and freedom of expression of the journalists” working at the Adjara TV, and “to halt processes that jeopardize the independence of the free media.”

The addressees included Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights; Eamon Gilmore, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights; Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and other dignitaries. The signatories called their attention to recent decisions by Adjara TV management directed against the critically-minded members of the team show “obvious indications that editorial independence is being compromised” and that the Adjara TV “is being heavily controlled.”

The statement comes four days after Giorgi Kokhreidze, director of Adjara TV, had dismissed Teona Bakuridze, anchor of the broadcaster’s main news program and a vocal critic of the channel’s new management.

Earlier on March 9, former head of newsroom Shorena Glonti, former deputy head Maia Merkviladze (who is now downgraded to another position) and Teona Bakuridze, then suspended from her position, announced about launching a legal dispute against TV’s management to protect their rights.

For the last few months, dozens of employees of Adjara TV have expressed their protest against the new management’s interference in the broadcaster’s editorial policy.

Earlier this month, Reporters without Borders (RSF), Paris-based international media watchdog published an alert about recent developments at Adjara TV on the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote protection of journalism and safety of journalists, expressing concern for “the increasing control over the media in Georgia.”

The signatories of the statement also mentioned “cases of gross violations of labor rights” at the broadcaster, noting that “a hostile working environment and the series of unfair decisions” made by its management “provoked a reasonable degree of anxiety among journalists and staff over the danger of extending the practice of interference into editorial policy and the filtering out of independent staff in the future.”

Stressing that developments at Adjara TV “should be seen in the context of the wider political environment,” the signatories point at “obvious” interest of the central government “to stifle critically-minded political and media groups as a way to maintain its power and to take control over them.

According to the statement, Georgian public has also witnessed “controversial legal processes and hostile rhetoric of ruling party representatives against other critical media outlets” including TV Pirveli, Mtavari Arkhi TV and Formula TV.

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