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Media watchdog to keep a close eye on the airwaves

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Monday, December 17
Polish media activist Adam Michnik —- who played a role in negotiating Imedi TV’s return to air —- founded a media monitoring group on December 13 to keep an eye on journalism in Georgia.

The following day, Michnik hosted the first in a series of weekly televised discussions on the role of the media in the run up to the January 5 presidential election, along with two members of the monitoring group, academic Alexander Rondeli and editor-in-chief of the daily Rezonansi Lasha Tugushi.

The media watchdog also includes Gia Nodia, head of a Georgian-based political think tank; Levan Khetaguri, an academic; Zviad Koridze, a journalist; Davit Paichadze, head of the Tbilisi State University journalism department; and actress Nata Murvanidze.

Each member was handpicked by Michnik.

“These are people who I have chosen and they will work under my responsibility,” he said, adding that in choosing the journalists he was “searching for those journalists who have moral authority.”

At a press conference on December 13, Michnik underlined that the watchdog has the support of both the Council of Europe and the EU and reiterated that the body will have a strict monitoring role—primarily looking out for any appeals to violence, hate speech or slander—and would not attempt to control the media.

He also said the watchdog would also discuss “issues related to television ownership,” a reference to the controversy surrounding Badri Patarkatsishvili, the presidential candidate who founded Imedi TV but claims to have transferred management rights to News Corp. The government maintains it has not seen any evidence proving that Patarkatsishvili gave up his control of Imedi.

During the first televised discussion, Michnik warned of the dangers of political figures having interests in media outlets, and expressed regret that he had at one point simultaneously been a newspaper editor and politician.

The media activist is thought to have contributed to returning Imedi TV to air. The network at one time faced a three-month suspension of its broadcast license after being raided on November 7 for allegedly airing statements encouraging the violent overthrow of the government.

On December 1, he delivered an ultimatum to the government: reopen the station within a week or face international condemnation. At the time he also discussed the government’s proposal of a media watchdog and offered to chair it on the condition that he chose its members, adding that it will “discuss once in a week all possible violations of media ethics by media outlets.”

Imedi TV’s broadcast license was renewed days after Michnik announced his ultimatum, allowing the station to return to the air on December 12.

On Friday, Michnik described Imedi’s return as “a great success for Georgian society, for Georgian democracy and for common sense,” adding that it allayed his fears of Georgia becoming a “cannibal democracy.”

“I was afraid of it as I was with my native country, Poland. I was afraid that there would develop a cannibal democracy where the winner eats the loser. But now I’m sure this will not happen in Georgia, as it didn’t in Poland,” Michnik said.

Meanwhile, Levan Gachechiladze, an opposition coalition presidential candidate, accused the television channel Rustavi 2 of bias in its coverage of the ongoing election campaigns.

The channel recently broadcast a program in which Kakheti villagers accused him and the company he founded, Georgian Wine and Spirits, of importing Azerbaijani grapes instead of using domestic produce. He said he would give a “sharp reaction” regarding the matter.