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PIK versus Georgian Public Broadcaster

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, October 22
Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) revoked a contract with Georgia’s Russian language satellite TV station PIK (First Caucasus Information) on October 20. The TV station stopped broadcasting which has resulted in various controversies and protests towards GPB and its chair, Giorgi Chanturia.

PIK is the third channel of Georgian Public Broadcaster. It was founded in 2010 to target an audience mainly in Russia and in the North Caucasus. PIK’s 2012 funding is envisaged at GEL 14 million from GPB’s budget.

Problems between GPB and PIK began several days ago when PIK employees protested against the GPB because of their non-fulfillment of the agreement conditions and belated salaries issues. It has been surmised that PIK funds might have been misused by the Public Broadcaster during the election period. At the same, time the channel suspended broadcasting via Hot Bird satellite through which it was available since early 2011. The decision to terminate cooperation with the company Globecast (the owner of the satellite) was made on October 11 by the Georgian Public Broadcaster. The issue triggered more speculation that GPB has serious financial problems.

Nearly 450 employees of PIK television might be left without jobs. The journalists are actively expressing protest and demanding an explanation of the reasons why GPB terminated the contract with PIK TV and why the channel’s signal was turned off.

"We want an audit to be carried out in GPB in order to ascertain where the funds are. But first of all, we demand the protection of journalists' rights, the freedom of speech and we demand to be available on air. We have caused no problems to anyone. We are unbiased and professional journalists. We have done nothing that could be a reason for turning the channel off. But if reasons exist, we have a right to be informed them," Ekaterine Kotrikadze, the head of PIK's news department said.

The head of Georgian Public Broadcaster, Chanturia, released a statement and emphasized that GPB has no financial hardship. Moreover, Chanturia accused PIK of being in violations of the agreement conditions.

According to Chanturia, on October 15, several “PIK” TV’s employees without prior agreement with GPB’s management expressed protest on the air of GPB’s Third Channel. Allegedly, this protest was due to belated salary liabilities. This standoff was followed by an unauthorized display of the Third channel TV-signal on that satellite, with which GPB had terminated relations. According to Chanturia this move might increase GPB’s expenditures.

Thus, GPB named two reasons of suspending the contract with PIK. First, according to the contract concluded on January 13, 2012 with “PIK” TV, the display of signal and its management is the exclusive authority of GPB and hence, its unsanctioned modification is a harsh violation of the agreement. Second, based on the same agreement, the content viewed by Third Channel of GPB’s viewers, is the property of GPB. Usage of this content by employees of the TV company’s employees with the purpose of expression of claims as part of the internal dispute is categorically inadmissible, and represents violation of the agreement’s terms.

GPB also made explanations concerning the termination of its collaboration with Globecast. Chanturia informs that the decision to terminate cooperation with the company Globecast was made on October 11 and the partner company was informed about the termination the same day by email. On October 12, the broadcaster ceased the signal display to the relevant satellite. The corresponding decision followed the circumstances that in the period of several months the signal of the broadcaster’s Third Channel was double displayed to Globecast and Turksat satellites as well. “The latter delivered its service to the broadcaster free of charge in testing the regime. GPB, in the frames of its exclusive rights, made the decision to make the choice out of concurrent companies to the one with more advantageous terms,” GPB statement reads.

The statement turned unacceptable for the PIK employees. According to them, the statement included attempts of censorship towards the journalists for what Chanturia should remove from the post of GPB’s chairperson.

Georgian NGOs have always pointed out GPB‘s low transparence. Transparency International Georgia has appealed to GPB to carry out its actions based on public interests.

“It is the responsibility of the GPB’s management and the board to ensure that the broadcaster is focused on its mission and to protect the independence and rights of its employees,” TI stated.