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Maestro journalist protest government’s seizure of satellite dishes

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, July 16
‘Give us the opportunity to work!’ demanded Maestro TV’s journalists in front of the parliament building on Friday, as they protested the government’s seizure of the satellite dishes aimed at spreading their broadcasting signal deep into the regions of Georgia. “Citizens have the right to know, to receive information and to listen to diverse opinions,” Tea Sichinava said.

Demanding support from society, NGOs and the government, Maestro’s journalists found the arguments of the General Prosecutor’s Office to be unconstitutional. Tamar Kvaratskhelia, a news anchor at Maestro TV, said they want Maestro’s satellite dishes to be returned so that every family has the opportunity to watch Maestro’s programming in the regions.

Maestro TV, which can be subscribed to through cable providers in the capital of Tbilisi, wanted to increase their coverage area by distributing satellite dishes by charging a “minimal fee” under the slogan Maestro in Every Family. But the General Prosecutor’s Office accused the company of attempted of voter-bribing on behalf of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Party.

Ruling National Movement MP, Pavle Kublashvili, found the arguments against Maestro TV sufficient and emphasized that Maestro should not be engaged in “bribing schemes” with any political party. At one of Maestro’s programs, Kublashvili referred to the statement released by the chief prosecutor’s office which claimed that Maestro acted “under instructions” from the Ivanishvili-affiliated firm Elita Burji.

But Co-founder of Maestro TV Mamuka Glonti said Maestro TV, which was acknowledged as the most balanced in the Georgian media by the OSCE monitoring results, was only trying to increase their audience.

Media and NGOs expressed their solidarity with Maestro TV on Friday. Kakha Bekauri, General Director of the Ninth Channel (owned by Ivanishvili’s wife), said the government is trying to force people to make uninformed choices in the parliamentary elections this fall.

The Independent Association of Georgian Journalists (IAGJ) said that no radical actions are advisable until the case investigation is completed. The organization called on journalists to follow the code of ethics, by merging away from political interests and to act impartially while they advised the government to be careful with media related issues in the process of assisting private media organizations to develop.

The Georgian Academy called the seizing of satellite dishes an aggression against the freedom of media. Expressing solidarity with Maestro TV, the academy members said that only an informed society can save the future of the country through free choice, while Maestro provides “objective coverage” breaking the “information barrier” in the “awaking” Georgian regions.

“In every civilized country the government tries to make information available for everyone, but in the violent regime in our country, the opposition has less opportunity to reach the Georgian population,” Democratic Movement United Georgia said referring to Maestro TV.

Maestro TV found out that satellite dishes are no longer on sale– even at large markets in Tbilisi. Visiting Lilo fair, Maestro journalist were told off-record that the satellite antennas were taken from the fair with large trucks with the promise that they would return to the sellers after the parliamentary elections.

Economic analyst Irakli Lekvinadze said if the relevant bodies did not have the documentation to prove the legality of their action, such a step not only violates the right on property, but also hinders business development.

Maestro’s journalists said at the protest rally on Friday that they have been following the principles of journalism on a daily basis to provide the audience with different opinions. Demanding the protection of the viewers’ rights, the journalists hope to restore justice.