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Maestro TV in Turmoil as Founders and Owner in Stand Off

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, December 1
Maestro TV, which is regarded as a non-governmental channel suspended broadcast on November 30. The reason for this was nothing to do with the government however. Instead a conflict had broken out between the founders of the station and the director of its managing firm, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, one of the leaders of the opposition Georgian Party. As a result, Kitsmarishvili occupied the stations offices. The founders of the company demand Kitsmarishvili to leave the building and enable the channel staff to do their job, however, Kitsmarishvili said that "he stands like a citadel" inside the station and is not going to concede anything.

The situation has caused a great deal of controversy in society. Speculation is rife that there is a link between the conflict and the Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili who appeared on a show on the Maestro TV on Tuesday, following which Kitsmarishvili began his occupation action.

Kitsmarishvili claims that his rights are not protected by the channel, and says that “his action is dedicated to fighting for the impartiality of the Georgian media and especially of Maestro TV.” He outlined that he has no personal problem with Ivanishvili, however "Maestro TV is losing impartiality and is too positive towards the businessman. “Kitsmarishvili, who had no key to the company building and used "alpinist skills to penetrate the building" with ten allies and barricade himself within it, was not satisfied with only making statements and blocking the broadcasting, he also dismissed the founders of the company from leading posts.

In response, Maestro TV founders reject the dismissal and warn Georgian society and further afield that events could take a bad turn. The founders also stated that they abrogated the contract with Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s company, as he used force against the employees and stopped the process of operation. “He can address the court, though the court’s decision will be obvious. I have serious doubts that a special operation is plotted. Maestro, the independent TV company, faces the threat of being shut down”, one of the founders, Mamuka Ghlonti, said. He has also made a special appeal and called on the diplomatic corps, society and media to do everything to protect the channel through peaceful methods.

“We address ambassadors, the media, and the citizens of Georgia to protect us from Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s gang and not to let a repeat of what happened to Imedi TV channel in 2007. We have already seen attacks against the printed media. What is happening in Maestro is a continuation of this. Erosi Kitsmarishvili accuses us of stealing funds and Maestro may be shut down. We’re asking the patrol police to drag this hooligan, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, out and allow the founders of the TV company into the building”, he said.

The Patrol Police immediately played a mediator role and the statement of the Interior Ministry was also immediately made. “The Patrol Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] was called out by the Maestro TV Company, as a result of which the appropriate unit of the Patrol Police has arrived at the site. The only purpose of the Patrol Police on the scene is to prevent any conflict between the parties, clashes and tension”, the MIA statement reads.

The opposition, especially the parliamentary opposition linked the events with Ivanishvili and hinted that Kitsmarishvili is playing on the authorities' side in a wider game. "After Ivanishvili’s interview, the authorities realised that they might lose not only Tbilisi but the whole of Georgia and decided to use emergency methods against the channel using Kitsmarishvili,” opposition MP Gia Tsagareishvili, said.

MP, Dimitri Lortkipanidze, also mentioned that Kitsmarishvili might be a government instrument,” who, based on law, has no right to dismiss the General Director of the company from his post."

The authorities want the issue to be solved as quickly as possible but they underline that the “government has no involvement in this issue.” Based on the Vice Speaker of Parliament, Mikheil Machavariani, there have always been and would be such kinds of problems “shifting such problems to the government has became an illness for certain groups.” Fellow majority representative, Davit Darchiashvili did not exclude the Ivanishvili issue from the events and mentioned that the problem would be related to the sharing of money.

Comments were also made by media representatives. Assistant Editor-in-Chief of the paper Rezonansi Eliso Chapidze doubts that Kitsmarishvili is distant from the interests of the government. “I think no one has the right to violate the editorial independence of the channel. I condemn the fact of Erosi Kitsmarishvili attacking the channel. While the TV channel is very interesting and is in the forefront of events, such action raises doubts that Kitsmarishvili is distant from the interest of the government, as he has been assuring us for the last three years”, Chapidze said.

However, there were also those supporting Kitsmarishvili’s actions. Maestro’s journalist in Brussels, Giorgi Popkhadze states that Georgian journalists have one great shortcoming - they are either pander to the authorities or opposition leaders. He also states that Ivanishvili’s appearance in the political arena, changed the situation in Maestro: ”journalists should be impartial, critical and in this case I approve of Kitsmarishvili’s action, trying to restore balance on the channel.“

According to the analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze, what is ongoing regarding Maestro TV will in any case have a negative effect on the government. ”If Kitsmarishvili plays the government's game, it is a very bad scenario, if he is doing this as an opposition member, then he also damages the government as the society links Maestro-related process to government actions. I think that the only outcome is that the issue will be discussed in court.”

Rustavi Media Management Company, founded by Georgia’s ex-ambassador to Russia and former owner of Rustavi 2 TV Erosi Kitsmarishvili, took over Maestro TV’s management in November, 2009 for a three-year term and as he claims he is not going to cease the contract.