Iberia TV Accuses Gov’t of Pressure

The journalists of Georgia’s local and private broadcaster, Iberia TV, have accused the government of pressure. The statement from staff was released by the Head of the news service, Vakho Khuzmiashvili, who called on the government to stop “illegal actions” against Omega Group, the main financer of the TV channel.

Khuzmiashvili noted that Omega, the main donor to Iberia TV, and its companies, are suffering financial hardship.

“Omega Group is a victim of dumping, which creates serious financial problems for Iberia TV. The journalists working for the channel suspect this is a deliberate attempt to force the channel to stop broadcasting with free editorial policies,” the statement says.

Earlier, Archil Gamzardia, Iberia TV journalist, had spoken out about the pressure on free media.

"There is an assumption that the government is trying to block the financing source of Iberia TV by affecting its main donor company,” he said.

Georgia’s most opposition-minded broadcaster, Rustavi 2, reports that the Omega Group suffered a $100 million loss after multinational company British American Tobacco “violated the laws on competition and tobacco control.”

Omega Group General Manager Levan Aghdgomelashvili told Rustavi 2 that Tbilisi City Court had ruled in their favor; however, the Appeals and Supreme courts did not uphold this decision.

Aghdgomelashvili claims that local and international business operators deliberately brought Omega Group to a crisis, and is calling on the authorities to investigate the case.

Eliso Kiladze, Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Qrionika Plus, says this is another attempt by the government to cut financing of the private television channel in order to silence it.

Kiladze says the upper instance courts ruled in favor of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s business partner British American Tobacco, adding that Omega Group was refused their compensation of $100 million.

Business Ombudsman Irakli Lekvinadze says he is well aware of Omega’s disputes but says no discussions have yet been held regaridng the claims of Iberia TV.

British American Tobacco Corporate Manager, Zviad Skhvitaridze rejects the accusations of Omega Group.

“The total income of all tobacco companies on the Georgian market during the last 10-11 years does not amount to $100 million, so the claims from Omega Group that they had such a huge loss is absurd,” he stated.

The statement of TV company Iberia was followed by a sharp response from Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who named the broadcaster’s claims “nonsense.”

“I reiterate that it is beyond the bounds of possibility. The government, which has ensured that new TV stations can register and commence broadcasting in a matter of days, cannot accept these accusations. No one can compromise the achievement of ‘media freedom’ under our government. I say with full responsibility that things like this cannot possibly be happening,” the PM stressed.

On February 21, the journalists of Iberia TV held a meeting with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and provided them with detailed information about the recent developments.

The Executive Director of the Georgian Journalists’ Charter, Natia Aghdgomelashvili, stated after the meeting that they are watching the process carefully, adding that Iberia is not the only TV accusing the government of undue pressure.

“We know that Rustavi 2 and TV Pirveli had the same claims as Iberia TV, which underlines that the media, as a strong business, does not exist in Georgia,” she stated.

Thea Morrison

22 February 2018 19:39