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US State Department Says Merger of TV Channels in Georgia Decreased Pluralism

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, April 23
The US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released on Friday says that the merger of three Georgian television stations, Imedi, Maestro TV, and GDS TV, coupled with a change of leadership at Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB), “decreased media pluralism and increased public perception of a media environment increasingly concentrated in favour of the ruling party.”

“On November 29 the NGOs expressed concern about the growing influence of the government and of individuals affiliated with a former prime minister regarding the publicly funded GPB management," the report reads, referring to the appointment of the ruling party affiliate Vasil Maglaperidze as the new head of GPB, of the only channel in Georgia receiving millions of state funding.

The report also reads that the controversial amendments to the Law on Broadcasting submitted to parliament by the GPB management, “raised concerns” about a lack of transparency in the station’s restructuring process and the consolidation of power within the GPB’s top leadership.

Speaking on other issues the report stated that the Georgian government took steps to investigate some allegations of human rights abuse, but shortcomings remain.

Based on the report, the most significant human rights issues in Georgia included the alleged participation by government officials in the reported kidnapping and forced transfer to Azerbaijan of an Azerbaijani journalist Afghan Mukhtarli; arbitrary detentions and deprivation of life by Russian and de facto authorities of the country’s citizens along the administrative boundary lines with the Russian-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali; interference in judicial independence and impartiality; interference with privacy and violence against LGBT persons; the issue of Turkish national Mustafa Emre Cabuk detained in Georgia for terrorism-related charges.

The report says that prison and detention facility conditions improved overall but conditions in some old facilities are inhumane and lack sufficient ventilation, natural light, had minimum living space and adequate health care.

Members of the Georgian Dream majority claim that the report is mostly positive.

"Overall, if we compare the report to the previous ones, there are less critical assessments”, one of the leaders of the ruling party Georgian Dream, Archil Talakvadze told reporters.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs David Dondua also says that the report expresses a "positive attitude towards the environment in regards to protecting human rights in Georgia.”

The European Georgia and the United National Movement opposition in parliament say the report is “very critical” and they accuse the Georgian Dream government of making the “grave mistakes” which were reflected in the report.