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US expresses concern about constriction of media freedom in Georgia

By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, October 8
The U.S. is closely watching developments around the Rustavi 2 television network, and is concerned about the restriction of media freedom in Georgia, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said during a daily press briefing on October 6.

Rustavi 2 TV said on October 1 that a new court injunction in an ongoing ownership dispute has effectively cut off a USD 6 million lifeline investment needed for sustaining the broadcaster’s programming.

The channel claims that a lawsuit by one of its former co-owners and consequent asset freeze – ordered by the court at first in respect of Rustavi 2 TV itself and then in respect of the broadcaster’s majority shareholder company – is a government-led step aimed at taking over the opposition-minded television station.

Toner was asked a question about the Rustavi 2 case by a journalist of Rustavi 2, Davit Nikuradze.

“We’re closely following the developments that you mentioned. I think we urge that any legal proceedings involving a media outlet, certainly in Georgia, should be conducted at the highest standards of justice and with respect for freedom of expression,” he said.

Moreover, Toner stated that over the past years, the US government and the international community have praised Georgia’s free and pluralistic media environment which has been recognized internationally as a model for the region.

“Actions that give the appearance of constricting that environment, restricting media freedoms or compromising media pluralism are disturbing, especially before the upcoming parliamentary elections. So we do take it seriously and we’re watching it closely,” Toner said.

US analysts are also negatively assessing the current situation over Rustavi 2 TV.

“The fact that the government is using the court to constrict media freedom is a throwback to eleven years ago, especially considering that other channels have removed political talk shows, is concerning. Media should be free and transparent,” US political analyst Paul Krigo said.

He added that the issue mostly harms Georgia’s image and relations with foreign countries. He believes that in case the situation does not improve, Georgia will not get any support and promotion from the USA and the European Union.

The majority says that they are not involved in the dispute sides and are removed from court decisions.

The member of Georgian Dream, Ani Mirotadze, says that the government does not interfere in media freedom or in court verdicts.

“This is a dispute of two sides and does not have anything to do with the government. This issue is very sensitive and I am not surprised that US representatives became interested in it. I would like to advise everyone not to politicize this issue,” stated Mirotadze.