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Ivanishvili feuds with public broadcaster over media bias

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, May 30
The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) has announced that it considers Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s recent statements about the organization to be a threat against its existence. The GPB has appealed to international and domestic non-governmental organizations as well as other media outlets in protest.

On May 28, Ivanishvili remarked that if the Georgian Public Broadcaster does not fulfil its duty to deliver fair information to the public, it will lose its government financing as Georgians will not pay for a television channel that "spreads false information".

He made his remarks in response to the GPB's programme Akcentebi, in which he claims their journalist, Eka Kvesitadze, “did not hide her irritation that lots of people attended the [Georgian Dream] rally".

The billionaire also added that when Georgian Dream comes to power it will not pay salaries to the employees of the Public Broadcaster if they continue to have a "negative attitude" towards the public, "as we have seen in Kvesitadze’s case”.

Ivanishvili also claimed that the GPB's programming is based on "80% lies", as is most of the Georgian media.

“Threatening to change the financing rules arbitrarily, even more to suspend the Public Broadcaster’s funding, is taken as open blackmail and a rough attempt to change GPB’s editorial policy ahead of the elections,” the GPB responded in a statement. It went on to assert that Ivanishvili wants to see the Public Broadcaster used exclusively in service of his political interests; “That opposes the idea of press freedom in general and public broadcasting in particular”.

"I have stated that television that is being financed by the public must serve the people and not a specific political direction," the Georgian Dream leader re-iterated. "After our coming to power, we will ensure the GPB will serve Georgians and [have] editorial independence”.

Tamar Kordzaia, Executive Director of Journalist Ethics, called the GPB's statement "exaggeration", but admits that Ivanishvili's remarks were inappropriate. "If a government representative sais something like this, it would be a direct threat and an attempt to pressure. It was a statement made by a politician who has no lever to influence the channel, however such an attitude is not healthy. One may have some pretentions towards the media, however it should be a topic of discussion and not be voiced in such an aggressive tone".

Beyond the Public Broadcaster, accusations of bias have been lobbed against a number of Georgian media outlets. Mathias Huter of Transparency International Georgia, remarked that Georgians have an incorrect perception of press freedom. “The main problem, which is regularly voiced, is that opposition views do not reach the public. There is a polarized media reality in the country, either government or opposition. There is no discussion that a media is needed that would deliver both government and opposition views”.