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Satellite antenna drama continues between opposition and government

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, July 13
The chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement on July 11, that “under instructions” from the Ivanishvili-affiliated firm Elita Burji, Maestro TV imported “thousands of satellite antennas.” In a statement released on July 12 the General Prosecutor’s Office claimed that by distributing the satellite antennas, Maestro aimed at bribing voters on behalf of the Georgian Dream.

“The investigation aims at avoiding the criminalization of electoral processes and ensuring respect of the rights and freedoms of individuals and political parties,” reads the statement released by the General Prosecutor’s Office.

“I do not represent a political organization. What voter-bribing can be spoken of?” Ilia Kikabidze, Maestro’s General Director said, denying any cooperation with Elita Burji. To increase their coverage area and have more audience, the company delivered the first satellite antennas to a family in Saguramo on July 3 under the slogan “Maestro in Every Family.” But Kikabidze said it was a PR strategy and Maestro has not started the distribution of antennas yet, as the terms and conditions of the contract are not fully defined. He said no legal document can prove that they had been distributing satellite antennas without a charge.

Maka Asatiani [the owner of 25% of shares of Maestro TV] was the only investor who has invested over GEL 5 million since November 2011. In a skype call from Switzerland, Asatiani said that although she respects Bidizna Ivanishvili for his charity, she does not know him personally.

She explained that the distribution of satellite antennas was the part of the business plan aimed at making Maestro TV more attractive for the viewers. Calling Maestro the only objective TV channel in Georgia, Asatiani expressed her confidence that it would become a successful business project with huge income.

In a statement addressed to media organizations, NGOs, the diplomatic corps and international observers, Maestro’s shareholders accused the General Prosecutor’s Office of hindering their development as a free media company and the audience from getting diverse information especially before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association and Transparency International Georgia urged the Tbilisi City Court and the Prosecutor’s Office to present an adequate legal justification for the seizing of satellite dishes imported by Maestro TV. They said “any action taken against media outlets should be proportionate and carried out with a maximum of transparency” as “preventing the distribution of satellite dishes – which Maestro has claimed will be financed by its owners –may be publicly perceived as a step that could limit citizen’s access to media.”

Tamar Kordzaia, Executive Director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, said none of the shareholders of Maestro TV are the members of any political party, thus they do not have direct political interests. She said there are no similarities between the cases of Maestro and Global TV.

NGOs and media organizations said this decision is putting the democracy and transparency of upcoming elections in question. Editor-in-Chief of Liberali Magazine, Shorena Shaverdashvili, said freedom of speech and media accessibility are such fundamental rights– especially during the pre-elections period– that the government should have additional responsibility and accountability to assist in the freedom of media in the country instead of censoring the media.

Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze said every media company should have the opportunity to provide the audience with objective programming “even the oppositional TV Company” like Maestro. “Whoever has made taken such steps [to seize satellite antennas] must have relevant information; nothing would have been done illegally,” ruling United National Movement (UNM) member, Davit Darchiashvili said, hoping that the truth around this issue will become clear.

As the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC) spokesperson Khatia Kurashvili told The Messenger earlier this month, Maestro TV has a legal right to distribute its satellite dishes under any conditions.

Journalists of Maestro TV would oppose to the court decision in front of the parliament on July 13.