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Georgian Media Figures Rally against Press Distribution Reforms

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, November 30
The Georgian Press Association uniting representatives of the print media held a rally entitled “I read newspapers” in front of Tbilisi City Hall on Tuesday. Holding various newspapers in their hands, the citizens encouraged independent press providers to protest City Hall’s decision of closing press boxes in Tbilisi and reopening them through tenders. Demanding the Mayor Gigi Ugulava stop acting against freedom of the media, protesters accused state officials of threatening freedom of information by monopolizing the media space.

“Hands off Georgian independence of the media,” Eliso Chapidze, Deputy Editor of Rezonansi newspaper and one of the initiators of the rally addressed City Hall, confident that the authorities would fail in “enslaving” print media like they have partly done with TV stations. The main reason of the rally, as Chapidze explained, was to show the government that people read and thus need newspapers and magazines.

The protesters said they would publish all the places considered by the tender and ask the business sector to refrain from buying places where press boxes have been located so far. Journalist Nino Zuriashvili wondered why the old boxes need to be removed and why the distributers have been oppressed. Observing the signs of monopolization in the City Hall’s decision, Zuriashvili said monopolization would make it easy for the government to manage the media.

Removal of press boxes has already started in the capital. Georgian Press Association together with their supporters released a signed statement to society, diplomatic corps and the government, where they demanded suspension of the steps carried out by City Hall. The signers of the statement want to preserve older press boxes as “freedom islands” in the capital, which have become traditional places where people can get objective information on ongoing processes in the country.

Kavkasia and Maestro TV together with various newspapers and online agencies encouraged the independence of the press in Georgia saying that newspapers are sold at stands in streets in various capital cities throughout the world without “damaging” the city’s style, as this is the excuse used by officials for removing the press boxes.

Opposition parties spoke of freedom of information as one of the fundamental principles of the Georgian constitution. “Our constitution emphasizes that the state should ensure free distribution of information among the society,” Zaza Gabunia, from Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) stated. Labor Party member Kakha Dzagania encouraged the citizens to stand with print media representatives “spreading truthfulness in society.” Member of the Republican Party Tina Khidasheli also worried that City Hall’s decision had become a weapon against freedom of print media and small business.

Uniting with the protest against City Hall’s tender, the press service of Bidzina Ivanishvili offered the Georgian Press Association the opportunity to discuss the ongoing situation on Friday. “Disguised under the Small and Medium Business Development Project, Tbilisi City Hall tries to attack Georgian press. We suppose that City Hall’s decision to remove press boxes is not for creating “healthy competition” in the country, but acts against freedom of the press and democracy,” Ivanishvili's press service said.

Protesters believe that the main character in this game is not Gigi Ugulava but President Mikheil Saakashvili who wants to defeat freedom of press through the Mayor of Tbilisi. Encouraging media representatives to unite against City Hall’s decision, participants of Tuesday’s peaceful rally plan to oppose the tender in front of the President’s Administration next week.