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Imedi sacks critical journalists

By Sopo Datishvili
Wednesday, May 13
Three journalists from the Imedi TV channel were dismissed after signing a special statement on May 4, addressed to the directorate of the channel, requesting that it change its broadcasting policy. The three journalists claim in a statement, made on May 8, that about 60 other staff who also signed the joint statement remain in their posts but are under pressure from their bosses.

The dismissal of the journalists provoked a protest from the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association. They criticized the comment of Imedi Director Bidzina Baratashvili that this was an internal problem of the channel and shouldn’t have become a matter of public discussion. “We believe that when speaking about the freedom or restriction of the work of editorial staff, the responsibility of the channel directorate to substantiate internal decisions is strong. In the law on “Freedom of Speech and Expression” freedom of expression implies editorial freedom and pluralism and no censorship.

“A journalist has the right to keep secret their source of information and make decisions according to their conscience. This is defined in paragraph 3, section 2, subsection d of this law,” the GYLA said in a statement. The GYLA also reminded the Imedi directors that they use public resources and according to the relevant legislation are therefore accountable to society, so their work should be transparent. Consequently, the staff statement concerning the channel’s broadcasting policy wasn’t only an internal matter for Imedi.

Imedi staff gave several reasons for requesting a change of policy in their official letter. “After the new television season started in September 2008, news journalists were ordered in an Information Department staff meeting not to record the comments of non-Parliamentary opposition members and other independent experts. Cameramen were ordered not to shoot pictures which would demonstrate the actual number of protesters attending the protest rallies in Tbilisi (so-called panoramic shots). Without any explanation, large and crucial parts of a speech by the Catholicos–Patriarch of Georgia were taken off the air. In a part which was cut the Patriarch addressed the armed forces, the journalists wrote in their statement.

The journalists also complained about inadequate editing of the 8:00 pm news. They said that all the important news about the beating of protestors and all the comments about their health conditions were ignored during the compilation of the news programme.

The sacked journalists are Tengo Mezurnishvili, an executive producer in the information department, Ana Gochashvili, a producer in the information department and Vakho Mamaladze, a sports anchor. They have since made another official statement, this time about their dismissal. They claim that the decision to fire them was taken after their criticism of “Government censorship” affecting the information policy of the channel. The journalists said that they had appealed to the directorate in a most civilized way and didn’t want their protest to be used by the opposition for their own purposes. They said that they could have joined the protest rallies but had decided not to as they didn’t want to give their position a political context. “We, the employees of Imedi who were fired, are asking the following: if the channel’s policy is objectivity and freedom of expression, why are those who express a different point of view fired?” they ask.

The Chief Director of Imedi, Giorgi Isakadze, has confirmed that the three journalists have been dismissed from their jobs but explained that this was due to changes at the channel. “We are going to start a new information season in autumn and for this we are making some changes in the staff and the technical basis of the channel. What we are doing now is called a reorganisation of staff. These three journalists were fired as part of this. As for the letter the journalists sent to the directorate, we are still discussing it. Those who signed the statement still work in the news department. So we have to hold complex discussions before we can start talking about changes in broadcasting policy,” said Isakadze.

The recently-fired journalists claim that there will be more dismissals at Imedi in the near future. Giorgi Isakadze told The Messenger that this might indeed happen but as a result of the reorganisation he mentioned, not the letter sent to the directorate.