Former journalist of the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s discontinued weekly analytical show “Akhali Kvira,” Keti Tutberidze, has become the latest employee to speak out against alleged censorship at the state-funded Public TV.
Tutberidze handed in her resignation on May 2, just as sacked former anchor and two journalists of the “Akhali Kvira” — who had previously raised alarms about supposed pro-Russian censorship at the GPB — announced they will launch a lawsuit against the public TV. MORE
In a lengthy interview with media analysis and discussion platform Mediachecker, published on May 4, Tutberidze cited a “toxic environment,” as well as “slander” and “insults” from two other co-workers as the reason for quitting.
But, the journalist said she had already decided to leave in the spring of 2020, due to alleged pressure from Vasil Maglaperidze, former TV chief who subsequently left for a leadership role at the ruling Georgian Dream party but has since made a comeback, as the GPB board’s chair. MORE
Alleged Attempts of Censorship
Tutberidze told Mediachecker that she encountered no attempts at interference during her time on the GPB’s main news program “Moambe” throughout 2017 and 2018, but “pressure [from superiors] slowly began” as she moved to work for the “Akhali Kvira” show in 2019.
“I have heard, however, that before, during elections there was pressure on [“Moambe”] journalists,” she noted.
Continuing about “Akhali Kvira,” Tutberidze claimed Maglaperidze was behind the “system of control,” allegedly enforced by Eka Shonia, producer of the weekly show. The journalist further claimed she had received “strange” reprimands from Shonia on multiple occasions.
For example, Tutberidze said the show’s staff was not allowed to make reports on LGBT+ rights either on May 17, 2019, or in 2020, as superiors believed it would be perceived as “propaganda.” This used to prompt journalists working on human rights to openly voice concerns, she added.
Recalling another instance of the alleged censorship, Tutberidze claimed Maglaperidze pulled the plug on her report on crimes committed by the Soviet Army in central Europe and Berlin, supposed to air on May 9, 2020, marked by Georgia among others as Victory Day over Nazi Germany.
“This was the first instance directly related to me when the Director personally interfered with the show’s work,” she asserted.
Maglaperidze had argued that such a narrative was “completely unacceptable” and that the GPB would encounter problems if the report aired, according to Tutberidze.
Still, the “Akhali Kvira” was able to air several critical reports, the former journalist said, including on the leak of alleged State Security Service files on mass surveillance, the authorities’ treatment of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and the ruling GD party’s “ambiguous foreign policy course.”
Supposed Supervision of Social Media Activities
The former journalist said her activities on the social media platform Facebook were under strict supervision from the GPB superiors before Maglaperidze’s resignation.
Tutberidze claimed that Shonia, “Akhali Kvira” producer, demanded her to take down an “ironic post” on Facebook about Georgian Dream founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s interview with pro-government Imedi TV, as it was “open to interpretation.” The former journalist added that she reject the demand, however.
She also recalled receiving a “rough” reprimand for sharing on Facebook an article penned by Tamar Chergoleishvili, founder of online media outlet Tabula, three months ahead of the hotly-contested 2020 parliamentary elections.
Tutberidze cited Shonia as saying that she was “fed up” with the now-former employee’s Facebook statuses, but added that she again refused the producer’s demand to take down the post.
Alleged Control Over Selecting Respondents
Tutberidze told Mediachecker that the GPB superiors “strictly controlled the list of respondents” for the “Akhali Kvira” reports, checking if any of them had spoken ill of the Public TV.
In this context, she said that the TV channel did not exactly maintain a black list of respondents, but instead upheld “unwritten regulations.”
The former “Akhali Kvira” journalist added that the alleged supervision mostly concerned pundits and the civil society, and not politicians.
But, Tutberidze said that the journalists still in most cases conducted the interviews despite the superiors’ disapproval.
Following Maglaperidze’s 2020 Resignation
The former GPB journalist said the reason for putting off her decision to quit the public TV was Maglaperidze’s resignation in August 2020, and replacement by Tinatin Berdzenishvili.
Tutberidze noted that she found Berdzenishvili, “with her value-system, a very acceptable director.”
She added that former “Akhali Kvira” anchor Imeda Darsalia received guarantees of editorial independence, with Berdzenishvili further promising to allow the show to cover political topics “restricted during the previous year and a half.”
Amid Berdzenishvili’s leadership there was no “pressure over social media activities, pressure by the thought police and systemic censorship,” Tutberidze noted.