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Prime Minister initiates media ombudsman

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, March 7
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili initiated the creation of a media ombudsman institute to protect the rights of various media outlets in the wake of a large-scale stir over the Rustavi 2 private broadcaster trials, with the ex-owners of the channel gaining back the shares of the TV channel in Georgia.

The PM stressed the solutions and recommendations from the European institutions were of the utmost importance, referring to the unprecedented solution of a judge of the European Court of Human Rights to temporally suspend the enforcement of Georgia’s Supreme Court verdict in terms of Rustavi 2.

The PM stated the office of the Media Ombudsman would continuously monitor the country's media environment and development, including the processes involving Rustavi 2 and the media environment as a whole.

Kvirikashvili stated: “We are open to cooperation. We are protecting and empowering our institutions, and we will spare no effort to ensure the development of our country in accordance with the European and democratic values.”

The PM said the government of Georgia honours decisions, recommendations and ideas from European institutions, “which make a special contribution to our country's democratic development”.

“Accordingly, this is exactly how we treat the decision of the European Court of Human Rights regarding the application of an interim measure to the Rustavi 2 case,” the PM said.

“At the same time, I would also like to point out and underline that our Government has proven its commitment to democratic values with its actions, as repeatedly recognized by numerous organizations that measure the strength of democratic institutions, and evidenced by international ratings,” the PM added.

Kvirikashvili stressed the rule of law, respect for human rights - including freedom of speech and expression - and judicial independence are the result of the Government's policy and the main achievement of our country and its people. It is apparently a top priority of the authorities to firmly protect and preserve this achievement.

The PM strongly dismissed the statements of the opposition, some NGOs and Rustavi 2's leadership statements that the government was trying to silence the country's critical media organisation by influencing the court's verdicts in favour of former owners of the channel.

Founded in 1994, the broadcasting company changed ownership about 20 times between 2004 and 2012, Transparency International Georgia said.

The former owner, Kibar Khalvashi, filed a lawsuit in 2015 and stressed that his property had been illegally seized from him by the previous United National Movement government.

He stressed he purchased the company for $7 million in 2004 but was forced under strong pressure to concede the property to a new owner in December 2006.

The current Georgian Dream Government members, who describe Rustavi 2 as an opposition TV channel, stressed it was an ownership dispute and they had nothing to do with the court’s 'independent solution'.

The Government vowed to support media pluralism and free media in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the opposition are accusing the government of fighting against Rustavi 2 and making an illegitimate decision in terms of the channel's ownership.