HRW: ECHR’s July Decision Shook Georgia’s Media

"The European Court of Human Rights’ July decision finding no breach of fair trial guarantees in the ownership dispute over Rustavi 2, Georgia’s most-watched television station, shook Georgia’s media landscape," says the Human Rights Watch Report 2020.

“As a result, ownership reverted to a former owner, Kibar Khalvashi, who claimed that he had been forced to sell the station in 2006 below market value. Rustavi 2’s general director, Nika Gvaramia, alleged the lawsuit was orchestrated by the government to take over the station because it was seen as aligned with the opposition.

"Khalvashi appointed a new director general, Paata Salia, who pledged not to interfere with the station’s editorial policy. However, Salia soon dismissed the newsroom head and producers and hosts of political and entertainment talk shows, claiming they had conflicts of interest because of their public statements against the new owner. The move prompted almost the entire newsroom to quit, resulting in a temporary suspension of news broadcasts.

"In August, the Prosecutor’s Office brought “abuse of power” charges against Gvaramia, claiming he had struck a sham deal in 2015 on commercial ad placement on the station, allegedly resulting in the loss of 7.2 million GEL (approximately US$ 2.5 million). A court ordered Gvaramia to post 40,000 GEL (approximately US$ 13,500) bail. Some civil society organizations saw the “accelerated manner of the investigation” as politically motivated, likely “aimed at persecuting opponents and critical media.”

"In September, Gvaramia founded a new pro-opposition broadcaster “Mtavari Arkhi” (Main Channel) and hired many of former Rustavi 2 anchors and journalists.

Authorities also brought charges against Avtandil Tsereteli, father of the founder of TV Pirveli, another independent and critical broadcaster. The prosecutor’s office alleged that Tsereteli assisted former TBC Bank Board Chair Mamuka Khazaradze and his deputy in “legalization of illicit income” of US$ 17 million in 2008. Civil society groups criticized the move as another attempt at “exert[ing] pressure on the independent and critical broadcaster,” reads the report.

By Ana Dumbadze 

Related Story: European Court of Human Rights Releases Verdict on Rustavi 2 TV

15 January 2020 11:19