Adjara TV Staff Speak about Threats to Editorial Independence

Employees of the Adjara Television News Service of the Georgian Public Broadcaster released a joint statement and called on the diplomatic corps, and international and local organizations for assistance to protect the editorial independence of the company.

The statement reads that the Adjara TV and Radio Advisory Board on Wednesday made a decision regarding staff changes which, according to the statement, “restricts the editorial independence of news staff.”

“The abolition of the position of deputy chief of news service, occupied by Maia Merkviladze, is a direct attack on the editorial policy,” the employees say.

The staff explains that disciplinary proceedings were launched against Shorena Ghlonti, the Head of the News Service, which has further exacerbated suspicions that the management of the broadcaster want to bring new people into the organization that are “desirable for the management.”

The employees of the channel claim that after the company’s ridding itself of Maia Merkviladze, the editorial staff of Shorena Glonti will be also removed from the editorial policy department.

“We believe that the situation created in Adjara TV and Radio in the year of the parliamentary elections aims at removing unwanted staff, especially critical journalists,” the statement reads.

The staff addressed the diplomatic corps, international and local organizations to help “save the broadcaster.”

“Not only will journalists be affected, but the idea of a public broadcaster will be damaged, which will further damage the media environment, pluralism and democratic processes in the country,” Adjara TV employees stressed.

The Adjara TV company was distinguished for its free and impartial editorial policy, which was many times praised by local and international authoritative organizations.

Questions were raised after Natia Kapanadze, Director of the broadcaster, was impeached by the Board of Advisors in April 2019. The Board failed to elect a new Director General a number of times, but after half a year, Giorgi Kokhreidze was elected as the new director. The process of electing the new director raised suspicion among civil society and the TV staff that the process may have been orchestrated by the government.

The non-governmental sector says that Kokhreidze expressed his discontent with the Adjara TV journalists on the very first day of his coming there, and soon presented a reorganization plan, which some of the staff suspected was an attempt to rid the channel of “undesired employees” and to change the editorial policy.

Deputy Director Natia Zoidze thereafter repeatedly stated that she was being pressured by the director to digress from the editorial policy. Later, she was removed from the management of editorial policy on the broadcasting platforms and eventually quit her job. NGOs say Zoidze's resignation was evaluated negatively by international organization Reporters Without Borders, which linked the above to increased political pressure on state-owned media in Georgia.

The non-governmental sector noted that recent reports of planned staff changes in the TV company, disciplinary proceedings against the head of the news service and the expected removal of one of the presenters of the Hashtag program are particularly worth noting.

NGO Transparency International (TI) Georgia expressed its solidarity with the employees of Adjara TV.

“We call on the director of Adjara TV and the Advisory Council (especially those members who were selected through the quota of the ruling party Georgian Dream) to stop the persecution of employees who are critical of the management; to adopt all decisions through discussion and broad consensus so as not to deepen further the mistrust between management and staff, and to address the questions of the public concerning the independence of the TV station,” the TI-Georgia statement reads.

Georgia’s Public Defender, Nino Lomjaria, also made a comment on the Adjara TV and Radio case, saying the recent developments raise suspicion about an attempt to change the editorial policy of the critical media outlet.

“It is particularly noteworthy that Adjara TV is a publicly-funded broadcaster, which was founded with the aim to air impartial and diverse programs that would be free of influence and would serve public interests. In order to ensure this function, the TV channel has a number of obligations under legislation, full fulfillment of which is essential given the polarized media environment in the country,” Lomjaria stated.

The Ombudsman also called on the Board of Advisors of Adjara TV to critically review the proposed staff changes and make a reasoned decision aimed at dissolving doubts and ensuring the smooth functioning of the TV Company.

By Tea Mariamidze

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20 February 2020 18:30