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Opposition decries ‘Sovietization’ of TV at public broadcaster protest

By Mikheil Svanidze
Wednesday, May 28
Opposition supporters rallied in front of the state-owned public broadcaster yesterday to protest “unfair coverage” of their campaigning, amid news of the resignation of the station’s board chairman.

Board chairman Irakli Tripolski resigned yesterday, complaining of bias in the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s news coverage.

“[The] law on public broadcasting says that the public TV should be objective and cover all the developments taking place in the country appropriately, but that is not happening,” Tripolski told online news source

Most opposition leaders praised his resignation. They said a second board member also complained about the work of the Georgian Public Broadcaster but did not resign.

“Tripolski gave every journalist an example of struggle in this unfair situation,” said Pikria Chikhradze, a member of the eight-party opposition coalition called the United Opposition.

A crowd of about 2 000 gathered yesterday afternoon outside the GPB building to condemn “biased coverage” of their protest the day before.

The opposition accused the GPB of intentionally downplaying their rally, when about 10 000 demonstrators marched on parliament shortly after an Independence Day military parade left the area.

Opposition speakers said coverage of the rally came fourth in the lineup of the GPB’s primetime news program that day, and claimed two earlier hourly bulletins were canceled to avoid covering the demonstration.

But Tbilisi-based media analyst John Horan said the rally was covered in all GPB bulletins from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and was the lead story in bulletins from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Leading opposition figures met with GPB board members to demand fair retrospective coverage of the Independence Day rally and one or two hours of “opposition time” every day.

“At the meeting, we only spoke about the unfair coverage of the events on [May 26] and not about [other biased coverage],” opposition figure Davit Saganelidze told reporters after the rally.

The opposition also insisted the GPB form an independent monitoring group to supervise its broadcasting, as well as air a film on alleged violations during the May 21 parliamentary elections.

GBP administration said they would discuss these issues and come up with a decision.

Some of the board members told reporters they thought the GBP reporting was fair.

An OSCE/ODIHR pre-election monitoring report singled out the GPB for praise, saying the station gave reasonably balanced coverage of the campaigning for last week’s parliamentary elections.

“Public TV, in particular, offered the electorate a valuable opportunity to compare parties and candidates,” the report read. The OSCE previously faulted the station for unbalanced coverage of the presidential campaign last winter.

Opposition speakers at yesterday’s rally spoke of the “Sovietization” of the public broadcaster and the media in general, accusing the government of clamping down on freedom of press.

“I think that both TV and the printed media were much more independent 10–12 years ago than they are now, and that is a shame,” said Chikhradze of the United Opposition.

Other opposition members leveled personal threats at GPB director Levan Kubaneishvili. Failure to comply with their demands, warned leading United Opposition member Goga Khaindrava as he turned to looked toward Kubaneishvili’s office window, would lead to “very bad things” for him.

“Today we showed Kubaneishvili a ‘yellow card.’ If he fails to obey the will of the Georgian people, we will show him a ‘red card,’” leading opposition member Kakha Kukava said at the rally.

Opposition leaders also repeated calls to physically blockade the first session of the newly-elected parliament, likely to be held early next month. The government won nearly eight in ten seats in an election last week which the opposition say was rigged.

“Everyone must tell their friends, their relatives, to come and not allow this illegitimate parliament to convene,” Kukava said.