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Despite protest, Adjara Television Advisory Board supports alarming change of journalists

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, February 20
Adjara Public Broadcaster's Television and Radio Advisory Board voted in favor of director Giorgi Kokhreidze’s proposal with 3 votes against 2 to change the staffing schedule.

The decision will come into force on February 24th and will officially annul the 4 deputy chiefs of staff. Among them, the changes concern the deputy head of the news service, Maia Merkviladze, the creative director Giorgi Murvanidze and the deputy chief of financial services. Some reporters dismiss them as an attempt to change independent and impartial editorial policies and believe that the director and members of the advisory board are following the government's order.

The director of the broadcaster argues that changes are needed for effective management and getting rid of duplication of duties. According to him, the dismissal of the posts does not mean dismissal of the employees in these positions and everyone is included in the new staffing schedule. Kokhreidze assures that the new deputy will have the same duties as the current deputy heads of services. He also said that the heads of departments do not have deputies in any other broadcasters.

Kokhreidze's proposal was supported by Giga Chkhartishvili, Tamila Dolidze and Soso Sturua, who were elected by the Adjara Supreme Council. Gia Kartsivadze and Tamar Tsilosani, who were elected by the quota of the United National Movement and independent MPs, were against it.

Two rallies were held in parallel with the Adjara Public Broadcasting Board meeting. Some activists expressed solidarity with GPB staff and seeked to protect the editorial independence and criticism of television.

Government officials disapproved of television's critical tone, saying it is biased and does not cover 'good news.' They say television should not only be critical, and it should also cover 'good things that are happening' in the country.

On Sunday, February 16, a rally was held in support of Adjara TV journalists in Batumi. The rallies in support of staff were also held in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Ozurgeti and Akhaltsikhe.

The Public Defender of Georgia expressed concern over the developments on Adjara TV and Radio on the Public Broadcaster.

According to Nino Lomjaria, these events threaten media pluralism in the country and negatively affect freedom of expression.

Lomjaria cited several facts, including the rejection of the channel's critical tone by the newly elected director, accusations of bias by television staff, and unilateral change of terms of the first deputy Natia Zoidze's employment. According to the Public Defender, the above circumstances raise doubts about an attempt to change the editorial policy of the critical media. “This is particularly worrying given the large number of criminal cases directly or indirectly related to the owners of independent TV companies,” Lomjaria announced.

The Public Defender calls on the Adjara Television Advisory Board to critically review the proposed staff changes and make a well-reasoned decision aimed at dispelling public doubts and ensuring the smooth operation of the TV Company.

Adjara broadcaster talked about the possible threats after the resignation of the director, Natia Kapanadze. Television staff thought the government was trying to influence them. In the 8 months since the dismissal of the director, the competition has been prevented 3 times, and on the fourth try, the board elected Kokhreidze, to whom the staff have questions.

Before the polls, a few of the Adjara TV staff were saying that electing Kokhreidze would endanger editorial independence. Kokhreidze, speaking on the channel's main newscast on the day of his appointment, said he disliked the critical tone of journalists.

After Kokhreidze's election, consultant Zviad Koridze and Media Manager Marina Vashakmadze left Adjara TV. Former Deputy Director Natia Zoidze also left the television. She claimed that Kokhreidze was calling for an exit from editorial policy or threatened with criminal prosecution.