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Last pro-opposition TV station alleges state pressure

By Shorena Labadze
Wednesday, July 9
Authorities are telling businesses not to advertise with the country’s last pro-opposition television channel, its director claimed this week.

Kavkasia station director Nino Jangirashvili says that for the last ten days businessmen have been summoned to the Finance Ministry’s tax inspection department and told not to advertise with the channel.

“They call not only the businessmen who are already our partners, but also the ones who don’t have any business relationship with us. Maybe it is a kind of preliminary prevention measure,” Jangirashvili said.

A spokesperson for the Finance Ministry department said the claim is “simply slander.”

“It is a simple accusation and we won’t say anything about it,” the spokesperson said. “If they take these charges somewhere official, they will get an appropriate answer.”

Jangirashvili alleges the authorities, worried by her station’s plans to grow, are trying to strangle their money supply.

“Kavkasia remains the only TV channel which isn’t controlled by the authorities, and it has become stronger recently, having rather ambitious aims,” she said.

“We were going to begin interesting new projects, new programs; but in such circumstances we can’t take these steps. The authorities wish [us to] disappear from the foreground, as the airwaves have had ‘unpleasant elements’ filtered out recently.”

The government raided and shuttered pro-opposition Imedi TV in November as riot police cracked down on opposition demonstrators. Kavkasia, a shoestring operation which broadcasts only in Tbilisi, was also briefly closed but reopened as the last significant pro-opposition television station.

Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra rated Kavkasia the third-most watched Georgian station at the start of this year. The same research put the channel in seventh place last year.

Jangirashvili refrained from naming the businesses allegedly under pressure, but readily accused the brother of Kvemo Kartli governor Davit Kirkitadze of having a direct role in intimidation.

Davit Kirkitadze could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Jangirashvili said her station will prove to the government that its power is limited: “They must finally understand that the goal [of control on the media] can’t be achieved with constant terror. If society needs this TV station, it will protect it. Let’s just see.”

The Kavkasia station director said that if the channel falls into dire financial straits, it will consider turning to individual contributions from its viewers.

After national station Mze TV ended its news broadcasts last month, pro-government Rustavi 2 and the state-funded Georgian Public Broadcaster became only two news channels with countrywide coverage.

Observers see a worrisome trend.

“The authorities [want to have] total control on the Georgian media,” says local analyst Gia Khukhashvili. “But I am stunned that our Western friends turn a blind eye to the problem.”

Freedom House, a United States democracy watchdog, said in January that Georgia “saw disturbing declines” last year in political rights and civil liberties, including press freedom.