As often the case in Georgia, the end of the parliamentary elections marks series of changes in the Georgian media, which reflect the realignment of the political forces and the exhaustion of the projects and financing that are linked to the election season.
Against the background of the controversy surrounding the election outcomes, and the resulting political crisis, this year is not an exception. A number of Georgian media outlets are going through internal organizational modifications and personnel changes, while some new actors come into play. Here is our brief overview of the transformations in the media landscape.
Formula TV is a relatively new television channel, critical to the Georgian Dream government. The controlling stakes (51%) of the television, which airs since October 1, 2019, are owned by ex-Defense Minister (2006-2008) Davit Kezerashvili. Following the October 31 elections, important organizational and staff changes occurred.
Giorgi Laperashvili, the former news producer at Rustavi 2, stepped down in early January as the head of the news department, but will reportedly remain at Formula TV to manage the political talk shows.
Laperashvili said his resignation was a sign of organizational realignment. Formula TV reportedly plans to drop the lead position at the news department altogether to replace it “with a kind of a board, taking ongoing decisions regarding news”, says Laperashvili.
Zuka Gumbaridze, Formula TV Director, told Civil.ge on February 23 that the board mentioned by Laperashvili is “being formed”. He said the newsroom continues operation “unhindered”, as before the elections.
Formula TV also adjusted programming, giving more place to analytical broadcasting, while keeping the news segment duration intact.
The news anchors were reshuffled – Vakho Sanaia replaced Levan Lominadze at prime-time, while Teona Bakuridze, a former TV Pirveli and Adjara TV journalist, substituted Sopo Donadze as the daytime news host. The administration of the TV channel says the editorial policy will not be altered following the staff changes.
Media Finance Group B.V. is expected to purchase the shares of Imedi TV, the largest national broadcaster with a strongly pro-Governmental editorial line.
The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) on January 28 approved the request of LLC Georgian Media Production Group to sell the shares of Imedi Media Holding. LLC Georgian Media Production Group currently owns 100% of the shares of Imedi TV, Radio Imedi, and GDS TV. It belongs to Ina Gudavadze, wife of deceased Georgian billionaire and founder of the television Badri Patarkatsishvili.
The buyer is Media Finance Group B.V., co-owned by Irakli Rukhadze, a business partner of ruling Georgian Dream party’s former Chairman, Bidzina Ivanishvili. So the deal will formalize personal control of Ivanishvili and finalize a break from the Patarkatsishvili family, which fought a protracted legal battle with the previous administration to return the control of the channel.
Since Irakli Rukhadze currently chairs Imedi TV supervisory board, no significant alterations of the editorial line are to be expected.
Nikoloz Laliashvili, Imedi TV Director, refrained from commenting about any possible organizational and staff changes that may follow the formal change of ownership.
Lasha Natsvlishvili, the media campaign manager for GD during the elections, former Deputy Chief Prosecutor, announced his return as the director of the opposition-bashing POSTV.
Natsvlishvili, who frequently panders to Mr. Ivanishvili, stated that he returns to the television with “great honor, plans, and responsibility,” noting that POSTV will eagerly defend “the achievements of October 1, 2012” – when the Georgian Dream came to power, beating UNM.
In keeping with this promise, Natsvlishvili posted on social media on February 23 that POSTV was switching to “emergency broadcasting mode” to “excise the national tumor [referring to the UNM] and to neutralize its metastases.” The statement came as the Georgian Dream government came under fire in the wake of the arrest of UNM Chair, Nika Melia. Subsequently, POSTV launched an active campaign portraying GD’s decision as “upholding of the rule of law.”
Georgian March, ALT-TV
In the wake of the 31 October Parliamentary Elections, Georgian right-wing political movements also seek to increase their media presence and impact.
Sandro Bregadze, Chairman of the ultra-nationalist, nativist party Georgian March – National Movement, announced plans to establish a new television station saying “the UNM-led TV channels” refuse to invite him as a guest.
Warning that the new TV will confront the “liberal dictatorship,” Bregadze noted that his TV channel will broadcast under the name “Georgia” and will not serve any party.
Bregadze accused the current leading TV channels of “polarizing” opinions and selectively inviting only “favored” political leaders. According to him, the new television will give more opportunity to the conservative political and social groups, who are “ignored and blocked” by Georgian TV channels.
In November 2020, Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) authorized a right-wing TV channel ALT-TV, which started broadcasting on January 8.
ALT-TV stands out by its strong anti-Western and anti-liberal messages, and gives the floor to prominent pro-Kremlin ideologues, including Aleksandr Dugin, an ultranationalist Russian philosopher who propagates “Eurasianist” ideology.
The decision to create ALT-TV comes after Facebook has removed its social media precursor, Alt-info, controlling 50 Facebook accounts, 49 pages, four groups, eight events, and 19 Instagram accounts, from its networks.
Facebook stated that the Alt-Info deployed coordinated campaigns primarily about news and current events in Georgia, on EU and Russian politics, the October 31 parliamentary elections, political figures and criticized other local media, as well as liberal politicians, immigrants, minorities, and LGBTQ communities.
(added after the initial publication of the article)
On March 5, Rustavi 2 TV station administration announced “structural reorganization” in the company, envisaging “optimization of the staff” and “improved functioning of the structural units.”
According to the official document signed by Rustavi 2 Director General Paata Salia, the structural reorganization should be finished before April 10, while the changes are connected to the corona-related economic crisis, reduction of the advertising market, and decrease in ratings.
Salia also told the media that the structural reorganization does not necessarily mean massive layoffs. “The newsroom staff and journalists will not be affected by this optimization. Neither them nor the programs. Moreover, we plan to add more [programs]. There might be some changes in the production, but all the popular shows will remain intact,” Salia noted.