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Big Changes in Georgia’s ‘Fourth Estate’

Published: October 22, 2012 | 11:20 am
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The COMMERCIAL TIMES

Big changes occurred in Georgia’s political life, have been followed by big changes in the local media, the so called ‘fourth estate.’ Since the opposition Georgian Dream coalition won the recent parliamentary elections, several media outlets, which were earlier said to be pro-governmental, changed owners.

Imedi TV

The biggest, most recent news is around Imedi TV, the TV company getting back to the ownership of the late businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.  Giorgi Arveladze, the Director of Imedi TV, former Economy Minister, has left his position. On October 16 Control over Imedi TV was handed over to the Patarkatsishvilis. “The process of transferring Imedi to the family has started and we will do our best so that Imedi will be a professional and objective channel,” family members say. “The family will finance Georgian TV Company Imedi,” Badri Patarkatsishvili’s widow Inna Gudavadze told journalists.

Patarkatsishvili contested the 2008 Georgian presidential election and came third with 7.1% of the votes.  Patarkatsishvili was funding the broadcaster, launched in 2003, up until his death in February, 2008.  After Patarkatsishvili’s death, ownership of the television station was taken over by the tycoon’s distant relative Joseph Kay in controversial circumstances, triggering a three-year long dispute about the broadcaster’s ownership. The dispute was reported to be settled by the Patarkatsishvili family itself, in July 2011, when the family and the Georgian government signed a deal.

Earlier, after the recent parliamentary elections, won by the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, Imedi TV made an official announcement that the company’s new strategy is to broadcast mainly news and political talk shows. “Imedi TV takes responsibility to remain the watchdog of democracy in the country and will provide the society with impartial, objective and balanced information about the ongoing country’s political and social issues in the country,” was said in the statement.  However, Night Show producer David Gogichaishvili and Imedi TV staff members were saying, they were told the reason for closing entertainment programs was the expected financial crisis on the broadcaster.  Now, it’s up to the returned owners what to broadcast. “We’re not planning revenge. Whoever sees themselves uncomfortable working with us it’s better for them to volunteer and leave,” said Nana Patarkatsishvili, late businessman’s sister. After this announcement, Nanuka Zhorzholiani (the host of Nanuka’s Show) and Ia Parulava (co-host of Day’s Show) declared they’re leaving Imedi TV.

The family members met with Giorgi Arveladze, the Head of Georgian Media Production Group. This company still holds a 100 percent share in Imedi. Currently Imedi, which also includes a radio station, is owned by Georgian Media Production Group, a company in which 45% of shares are owned by Giorgi Arveladze. 10% of its shares are owned by Joseph Kay and the rest is owned by two businessmen Giorgi Korakhashvili (30%) and Giorgi Mikeladze (15%).

Shares of Imedi Media Holding, a private television and Radio Company in Georgia, were formerly owned in part by the late Georgian media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. A preliminary agreement on the purchase of Imedi Holding’s shares was signed in New York on April 28, 2007, details of which remained confidential. At some point it was owned by I-Media, which had given power of attorney over 100% of its Imedi shares to News Corp. Europe, and its board chairman was Badri Patarkatsishvili. After Patarkatsishvili’s death in February 2008, the issue of ownership of the Imedia Media Holding again came to a public attention. Joseph Kay, alias Joseph Kakalashvili, a stepson of Patarkatsishvili’s aunt announced that he had bought Imedi TV from Gogi Jaoshvili, reportedly a close friend of Patarkatsishvili, who owned 70% of JMG, a company with a 65% stake in I-Media, which is the founder and 100% owner of Imedi TV. According to papers submitted to the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) by Imedi TV in December 2007, the remaining 35% of the I-Media shares are owned by Universal, a firm founded by three relatives of Patarkatsishvili. Kay claimed that Patarkatsishvili had asked him shortly before his death “to take care of Imedi” and pledged to “restore the face it [Imedi] had before Badri Patarkatsishvili went into politics.” He also rejected the allegations voiced by some Georgian opposition politicians that the authorities were in fact behind the deal.

Rustavi 2

Another news concerns Rustavi 2.  David Kezerashvili, former Minister of Defence of Georgia became the owner of Rustavi 2 TV on October 4. According to the data from Public Registry, Levan Karamanashvili sold 40% shares of Rustavi 2 TV (for USD 500 thousand) and Mze TV (for USD 250 thousand) out of his 90% shares to Media Georgia. The latter was founded by Kezerashvili on October 3. On October 9 he sold the newly-acquired shares to Giorgi Karamanashvili, relative of Levan Karamanashvili. The rest 10% is owned by Gogi Gegeshidze. Gegeshidze is also the owner of Magi Style to which the government gave the right to construct the Kutaisi Parliament building without any tender. Economic Supplies Department of the Parliament of Georgia confirmed to The COMMERCIAL TIMES that no tender was held, though it had to. Previous owners Khibar Khalvashi, also David Dvali and Jarji Akibidze are now saying to appeal to court in order to get back their shares.

As for Mze TV, Vano Chkhartishvili, Minister of the Economy, intends to return his shares of the broadcaster. Chkhartishvili has already returned the shares of Guria TV.

Sakartvelo

Tabula magazine changes profile. It became clear that the Foundation for Civic Education, the publisher of Tabula magazine, and Sakartvelo TV company have achieved agreement on the transfer of the latter’s broadcasting license. The National Communications Commission gave its preliminary consent to the parties on the completion of that transaction. Similar to the magazine, the founder of a new TV-station will be the Foundation for Civic Education. Members of the Board of the Foundation are: Tamar Chergoleishvili, Ghia Nodia, Giga Zedania, Baadur Malazonia, Levan Ramishvili, Aleksi Machavariani, Beka Mindiashvili, Davit Paichadze, Kakha Bendukidze, Giorgi Pruidze, Nino Gogiberidze, Davit Kovziridze, Irakli Saghinadze, Ketevan Devdariani and Giorgi Liponava.

Georgian Public Broadcaster

Actually, big TV chaos was started on the Georgian Public Boradcaster first when Eka Khoperia and Vakho Sanaia protested against GPB. Khoperia said her social-focused talk show Auditorium was closed by Giorgi Chanturia, General Director of GPB with no clear explanation. “I asked for live broadcasting of Auditorium and freedom in choosing the guests. The profile of the show would remain focused on social issues. Chanturia answered he did not want street demonstrations before GBP,” Khoperia wrote on her facebook wall.  On his side, Sanaia objected Chanturia’s sudden decision to cancel his political talk show. “Chanturia broke his word given to the whole society. He promised that my political talk show would be aired on GPB, but changed his mind irresponsibly. I’m not going to quit, I will fight to keep my promised show,” said Sanaia during the Politmetri talk show aired on Measetro tv on October 5.

Channel 9 and Maestro TV

During the pre-election period, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream Coalition, PM Candidate, stated that in case of winning he would alienate Channel 9. Recently he said: “I’m keeping my promise, but it’s a complicated process and will take time. When I leave politics, I will still remain an active member of the society and will try to assist the creation of truly independent media in Georgia.”

Earlier, on September 5, Channel 9 senior management announced the formation and membership of TV9′s international advisory board. The Advisory Board members include (in alphabetical order): Les Gelb: President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Correspondent and Editorial Page Editor for New York Times, Lee Hamilton: Former Congressman, Co-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, and former President of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Larry King: Nationally syndicated host of “Larry King Live” on CNN and philanthropist, Giorgi Margvelashvili: Dean, Republic of Georgia Institute for Public Affairs, Robert Menard: French Journalist and Internationally Acclaimed Proponent of Media Freedom.

Maesto TV stopped broadcasting Banana Republic political cartoon and political programme Without Accreditation. “The reason is contract expiration. Maestro was not creating these programmes. Thus, I cannot say when they’ll be back on air,” Mamuka Glonti, the Founder of Maestro TV, told The COMMERCIAL TIMES.

Commenting on the big changes in Georgia’s media, including cases like Imedi TV, Rustavi 2, Real TV, etc., Maestro TV Founder Mamuka Ghlonti said: “All that means that the times of robbing the state budget are over.”

Others

Real TV also changed owners. Guram Dinadze, Head of Real TV’s news service, initially said that the company was switching to 24/7 news programming. However, later he made a statement about Real TV’s closure.

As for PIK, the TV company was promised to be financed by GBP till the end of the year. Further fate of PIK is not clear yet.

On February 25, 2011, shares of Channel 25 were alienated. Gia Surmanidze, Director of Channel 25, said that the owners are Jemal Vernadze and Levan Kardava. The latter is a UNM majoritarian candidate, who won in Tsalenjikha. TV company staff members were told that the ownership information had been kept confidential due to the owners’ will.

Georgian Government’s Initiative about TV Media

Georgian government launched an initiative, saying to support the development of TV media. According to the initiative, all the local TV broadcasters, on the basis of a related appeal, will get sanctions on overdue tax debts decreased.

Alexander Khetaguri, Acting Minister of Finance informed the society about the details of the initiative during a special press-conference held on October 15. According to the official statement, this way, both central and regional TV companies will operate in an equal tax environment and this will assist the development of a competitive TV market. Broadcasters will be given an opportunity to attract new investments in this field. Ministry of Finance of Georgia, due to the high social interest, openly refers to all the broadcasters to write to the Ministry in case of tax debt. In 2010 central and regional broadcasters benefited from an analogue initiative.

“The decision won’t be applicable to the members of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcaster (GARB) since they have no such arrears,” said Natia Kuprashvili, the GARB’s Chairperson in response to the October 15 statement the Minister of Finance Alexander Khetaguri, reports media.ge. Kuprashvili clarifies that tax policy applied by State TV tower, Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and Tax Service in regard to regional broadcasters was extremely strict. None of the agencies pardoned the broadcasters the non-payment of taxes, accordingly they were impossible to have taxes accumulated,” Natia points out.

Unlike regional broadcasters Imedi TV andRustavi2 had State arrears accumulated – GEL 14 000 000 and GEL 5 500 000 respectively. The Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB) owed the State GEL 3 000 000, Trialeti TV and Saqartvelo both had the State arrear of GEL 10 000. The date on the arrears was posted on the Revenue Service website for two days until July 18, 2012. Afterwards the data was deleted from the website for some unclear reasons. Later Media.ge made a request for similar data from the Revenue Service but the data was withheld.

Even in the big democratic states like the United States of America, certain media outlets are doubted to be impartial. “It would hardly shock anyone in television that the place to find registered Republican voters is on the Fox News channel – just as MSNBC qualifies as a home base for Democratic voters,” says New York Times blog, based on the information from TRA Inc., which stands for TiVo Research and Analytics – TiVo is the television set-top box provider that pioneered the use of the digital video recorder. The results are based on an analysis gleaned from matching viewing data from those boxes and anonymous voter-registration records. (These are publicly available.)

 

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