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Democracy depends on journalists, says Subari

By Sopo Datishvili
Tuesday, December 30
In a statement published on December 25 by the Ombudsman’s Office Public Defender Sozar Subari addressed the freedom of speech situation in the country and underlined the necessity of journalistic investigations that, he says, should be broadcast by the First Channel.

Subari said that there can’t be any democracy if society is unable to control the Government and this mechanism of control lies in the hands of journalists. The media outlet with the biggest responsibility to exercise this control is the First Channel, as it is publicly funded via taxes. “One way to exercise control over the Government is journalistic investigations. They make it possible to concentrate public attention on such important issues as human rights, corruption, Government inefficiency and the process of reforms,” he said.

The Ombudsman said that he had already approached the Director of the First Channel Levan Kubaneishvili with the request that it start broadcasting journalistic investigations, but Kubaneishvili refused, saying that the channel has its own staff who work on such projects and is not going to buy films made by independent studios. Subari claims that the First Channel staff don’t actually conduct journalistic investigations and the TV channel chooses to spend its funds on making entertainment programmes that aim to convince people that “life is beautiful,” more, than it is in reality.

Subari recalls the time when journalistic TV investigations were highly rated programmes in the country. They were one of the things which sparked the Rose Revolution. He thinks the current Government is afraid of history repeating itself and because of this, all the TV channels broadcasting to the whole country refuse to show or commission such investigations. “According to the law, the First Channel should provide the public with timely and impartial information about events in Georgia and the world. It should broadcast news and social-political shows at primetime and reflect the plurality of opinions in society. Instead of obeying the law, its motto is “a channel for mood,” Subari said in his statement. He also mentioned that several companies which do produce journalistic investigations are financed by international organizations and the US Government, thus indicating the interest of international society in restoring freedom of speech in the country.

Vakho Komakhidze, a journalist and founder of the Reporter studio, which makes investigative programmes broadcast by TV Maestro, says that such programmes have their own structure and are as necessary as any news programme. Komakhidze added that the investigations of Studio Reporter are financed by the American private, nonprofit organization the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Representatives of the First Channel seemed familiar with the Ombudsman’s accusations. Board member Levan Gakheladze said that all independent studios, whether they make investigative programmes or other kinds, should participate in tenders arranged by First Channel and only after this will it be able to broadcast their productions. Gakheladze said that the Monitor and Reporter studios had never taken part in such tenders and therefore their productions can’t be broadcast.

“We always cooperate with private studios. 80% of our programmes are made by such “external” studios. But all of these took part in tenders announced by us,” he stated. Gakheladze said that even the Board cannot enforce the broadcasting of one particular product from a certain studio if it hasn’t won a tender. He also added that the First Channel already makes a small programme with a slight investigational character, as the basis of Moambe news release, and later the accent on journalistic investigations will be strengthened.

Independent journalist Ia Antadze says that news programmes aren’t enough to convey information, especially when the news is a source of political propagation. “Journalistic investigation sharpens the focus on certain problems, puts certain questions and broadcasts the comments of highly experienced experts. As a journalist, I can say that the films are made by professionals and the facts in them are checked and examined carefully,” said Antadze.

There are only two channels in Georgia which broadcast journalistic investigations at present, Maestro and Kavkasia. Maestro has only recently won the battle to obtain a license to broadcast political programmes: its existing license has been modified to include political programming.