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Tension Continues Over Radio Liberty Georgian Branch

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, Februuary 5
Georgia-based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have addressed the management of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President Thomas Kent and Vice President, Nenad Pejic, expressing concern over the disagreement between the management and the Georgian Service staff.

The NGOs also claim that the dismissal of the Director General of the Georgian Service, David Kakabadze, has raised questions among Radio Liberty’s audience.

“Resignation of Marina Vashakmadze, the Head of the local Bureau, has raised further concerns that the conflict between the management and the Georgian Service staff goes beyond trivial internal dispute and may have some deeper roots,” the statement reads, adding the RFE/RL management has not released official statement regarding Director’s dismissal or the nature of the conflict.

The organizations call on the RFE/RL management to communicate with the public and make explanations over the recent developments within the Radio Liberty team.

“In the era of fake news and hybrid wars good journalism faces serious challenges. For many of us, the RFE/RL reporting in the Georgian language has been an example of the highest professional standards and journalistic ethics,” the statement reads.

The NGOs say the Georgian Service and the local Bureau have been a trendsetter for journalism innovation in this country, both in publishing blogs, offering mobile reporting, or exploring multimedia formats.

“We expect to be convinced by RFE/RL management that the journalism produced by this professional team is still in demand,” Georgian civil organizations stated.

The tension between the Director of Georgian Service and the management group started after the state-led Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) terminated broadcasts of two of RFE/RL’s highly-acclaimed television programs Red Zone and InterVIEW as part of a planned restructuring process that critics claim is aimed at silencing independent voices.

As reported by media, RFE/RL management wanted to cooperate with Georgia’s most critical and opposition-inclined Rustavi 2 TV and asked the TV station to broadcast the two programs.

RFE/RL Georgian Service stated the positions of the RFE/RL leadership and management did not coincide in regard with Rustavi 2 which led to disagreement between the Georgian service Director, Davit Kakabadze and Editor-in-Chief of Programming, Nenad Pejic, after which Kakabadze was dismissed.

The decision of firing the Director of Georgian service was protested by the service staff, who sent a letter of complaint to RFE/RL President.

Moreover, some of the most prominent academics, writers, artists, and human rights activists in Georgia have signed an open letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate and the White House, as well as a separate online petition, in which they defend RFE/RL Georgian Service.