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Independent Media Unites against Closure of Press Boxes

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, November 29
Representatives of print media accuse Tbilisi City Hall of neglecting freedom of the media and small entrepreneurship. The auction announced by Tbilisi City Hall last week has become the subject of a controversy. The newly established Coalition for Freedom of Choice explained the situation to potential participants of City Hall’s auction, in an effort to allow previous owners of the press boxes to keep their business and continue releasing newspapers. Coalition members advised Mayor Gigi Ugulava to meet with people interested in the issue and explain the necessity for removing press distribution boxes or stalls. “The mayor should assure us why they had to announce auctions at the places where there already were press boxes,” Ia Mamaladze stated.

According to independent journalist and coalition member Zviad Koridze, City Hall representatives do not only have mercantilist purposes of getting money through the new changes, but also intend to destroy the media environment. “If the citizens won’t get newspapers, they will remain in an informational vacuum and thus fail in making proper choices,” explained Koridze. The coalition also asked the Georgian parliament to start discussing the legislative document prepared by media experts which offers special mechanisms for solving media related issues.

Encouraging the civil sector to boycott the auction and the business sector to refrain from participating in it, the Coalition for the Freedom of Choice are concerned that newspapers and magazines might be sold together with fast food products in future. The coalition believes that the government must be trying to neutralize the print media in order to release “filtered” information through national channels, while previous owners of press boxes will remain jobless.

Criticizing City Hall’s decision, the Georgian Press Association, Regional Press Association and print media representatives accused the city of fighting against freedom of the press. The statement signed by various newspapers and magazines, emphasized how the government had been trying to take control over the independence of the media. Worrying about the negative effects of the newly announced auction, newspapermen spoke of the difficulties the press is facing in spreading truthful information nowadays. Labeling City Hall’s decision as an “anti democratic” step against the country’s development, public interest and freedom of media, Association members appealed to City Hall to keep the old press boxes as “islands of freedom,” where citizens could get relevant information about ongoing events around them.

The majority of print media owners have united against the danger of closing press boxes. Encouraging independent media to hinder the government’s attempt to monopolize media space Dimitri Tikaradze, editor of Alia, stressed the necessity for uniting the free media in order to avoid any possible danger from the government. While Paata Veshapidze, chief editor of 24 Saati, can’t see any danger in the auction explaining that “the more boxes are in the capital, the more widespread newspapers will be.”

Bacho Dolidze Press Speaker of Tbilisi City Hall promised that every participant would have equal conditions in the auction thus no privileges can be given to previous owners of press distribution boxes. “Any company can participate in the auction and the winners will have an opportunity to sell any goods they wish including newspapers and magazines,” Dolidze stated.