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CSOs Report ‘Practice of Continuous Persecution’ at Adjara Public Broadcaster

Three civil society organizations – the Social Justice Center (SJC), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics – published a joint report on the “practice of continuous persecution” at the Adjara Public Broadcaster. According to the report, since 2019, the new directorate of the Broadcaster has “grossly violated both the individual rights of journalists and the main principles of public broadcasting – to be free from state influence, implement an independent editorial policy, be fair and impartial.”

General Overview

According to the organizations, the cycle of illegal decisions – internal organization changes, total control of journalists, their disciplinary persecution, and the termination and changing of labor contracts – began in this period.

“The broadcaster coarsely and purposefully interfered and [continues to] interfere with the professional activities of journalists who are critical members of the trade union, with clear instructions to change the editorial policy, by limiting their activities, [and] by actually removing them from their activities,” the report stated.

The document also stated that simultaneously, the content of the broadcaster’s work and the editorial policy are also changing, which, is manifested in the news published by the broadcaster and through decisions like “withholding/not covering important news, artificially protecting the balance and distributing [materials] devoid of criticism.” In addition, the guests invited to the program are no longer asked critical questions.

The CSOs also emphatically stated that the “ongoing negative processes in the Adjara Broadcaster coincide with the deterioration of the political and media climate in the country as a whole.”

“In the wake of political polarization and populism related to it, the government often creates the image of the enemy from journalists and media organizations, with whom fighting is justified on the basis of fighting political opponents,” they said.

Violation of Labor Rights

According to the report, after being appointed as the Director of the Broadcaster in 2019, Giorgi Kokhreidze removed all those responsible for editorial independence from their posts. For example, the contract of Natia Shavadze, producer and editor, was not extended. Furthermore, Kokhreidze also ensured the exit of Natia Zoidze, the former deputy director of the Broadcaster, by making her position obsolete.

Per the report, during the same period, Kokhreidze illegally fired Shorena Glonti, the former Head of the News Room, and abolished the position of Maia Merkviladze, the former Deputy Head of the News Room. He also fired Teona Bakuridze, the main news program anchor.

Additionally, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, a presenter and reporter for the Broadcaster, was fired after making critical statements about Kokhreidze on social media platforms. “Unfounded disciplinary responsibility” were also imposed on several other employees who were critical of Kokhreidze.

The document mentioned that this process, which remains ongoing, “aims to change the editorial policy of the broadcaster through discrediting, persecution, harassment, discrimination, [and] the illegal dismissal of many people.”

In that context, the report emphasized that the Director of the Broadcaster is trying to turn an independent and impartial editorial policy into a pro-government one.

The Court’s Role

The CSOs drew attention to the lawsuits initiated by former employees against the Broadcaster, demanding the protection of labor rights. They emphasized that the process “has been going on for more than two years and is unnecessarily delayed due to the deliberate actions of the broadcaster.”

They believe that it is important for the Court to see the mentioned disputes in a unified context, “as a joint process of politicizing the Public Broadcaster, substantially changing its editorial policy, and interfering with journalistic activities.”

“It is also important that the Court uses all procedural mechanisms requested by the claimant and considers each dispute in an accelerated time frame in order to stop the current processes of restricting the rights of employees in their work, interfering with freedom of expression and journalistic activity in a timely manner,” they stressed.

Adjara Television and Radio Advisory Council

The document also highlighted the flaws in the procedure for electing the 5-member Advisory Council of the Adjara Television and Radio and emphasized that it is not free from political influence as its members are elected by factional and non-factional deputies of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.

According to the CSOs, the procedure on “quotas is also ambiguous,” which “leaves the possibility of interpretation in such a way that the party in the majority can create a majority in the advisory council as well.”

“Such politicization of the election of the advisory council, as well as the vagueness of the legal norm, calls into question the editorial policy and impartiality of the Adjara Public Broadcaster and Radio, and damages the broadcaster’s authority in the eyes of views and listeners,” they lamented.

Editorial Independence

The document underlined that the editorial independence of the broadcaster is “essentially intertwined with the protection of the labor rights of employees,” and “low standards of labor protection and illegal decisions in labor relations threaten the stable and independent development of the broadcaster.”

“The developments of 2019-2020 have also shown that improper guarantees of labor relations have a clear negative impact on the proper functioning of the Public Broadcaster,” the report stated.

It also underscored that “in order to avoid similar cases, it is especially important that the personnel responsible for the broadcaster’s independence be included in the Adjara Broadcaster’s statute as part of the organizational structure, [and] that their replacement and dismissal should be done by the Director and the Board with a different quota (2/3 of the board) and under the conditions of higher legitimacy.”

Read the full report here.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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