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Ex-government spokeswoman takes over Radio Imedi management

By Mikheil Svanidze
Tuesday, June 3
Joseph Kay, the apparent new owner of the formerly pro-opposition Imedi media group, sacked the top management of Radio Imedi on May 30.

He did not publicly give a reason for the staff shakeup, while the station’s new director urged listeners not to draw hasty conclusions.

The station director and director general were replaced by Nino Gabriadze, a former spokeswoman for the state ministry for regional issues.

The popular Radio Imedi is the only radio station to broadcast news and music throughout the entire country.

The station’s ousted director, Nona Kandiashvili, said her sacking is part of a government campaign against press freedom.

“Freedom of speech is being restricted. The only free media in the country at the moment is press. I don’t know when [the government] will reach the press, but in that case, there will be an informational vacuum in the country,” Kandiashvili told the newspaper Rezonansi.

A group of Georgian journalists also denounced the move as pressure on the free media.

“We think that [the managers] were fired unfairly, without any justification. We consider this a breach of editorial independence and another case of apparent pressure on the freedom of speech,” the journalists, who plan to organize a lobbying group, said in a joint statement.

Gabriadze, the new director at Imedi Radio, said the radio’s editorial line would be unchanged and promised to abide by journalistic principles of objectivity and fairness.

She said the public can decide whether the management change was justified.

“Our listeners…judge everything in media, but I personally would not make any assessments just two days after the new management has been appointed,” Gabriadze told the Messenger.

Kay, a distant relative to Imedi founder and late billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, claims management rights to Patarkatsishvili’s fortune and is in effective control of Radio Imedi and Imedi TV.

The billionaire’s widow is fighting the claim in court, and has accused Kay of working with the government to undermine Imedi’s once-critical line towards the authorities.

Imedi TV, which special forces troops raided and shuttered on November 7 as riot police dispersed anti-government demonstrators in the capital, returned to air on May 5 without news coverage.

Patarkatsishvili financed an opposition campaign and ran for president after falling out with the Saakashvili administration. While he was alive, Patarkatsishvili’s Imedi media group was pro-opposition and highly influential.