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Respond to MEPs’ letter

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, March 13
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has responded to a letter and its accusations written by 17 members of the European Parliament over the notorious Rustavi 2 private broadcaster case. The letter accuses the Georgian government of influencing the legal process.

Kvirikashvili stressed in his response that he was “taken aback” by the letter and its accusations and stated that the Rustavi 2 case was a dispute between its current and former owners and the government had acted as a guarantor of free media environment in the country.

"Since the Georgian Dream came to power, we have spared no effort to fulfil the demands of our people and advance on the path of reforms that will turn Georgia into a European-style institutional democracy based on the rule of law, the respect of fundamental rights, freedom of speech and freedom from abuse, persecution and pressure from the authorities,” Kvirikashvili said.

“Never before has the Georgian media been so free from government interference and so critical of the government,” he said.

The Prime Minister stated that the ownership dispute over the Rustavi 2 TV station has been going on already for several years.

"You accuse us of a blatant attempt to turn Rustavi 2 into 'yet another government friendly TV company'. This is a serious accusation against a government which has prioritised media pluralism, and against a country where in fact there are no distinct pro-government TV channels.”

Kvirikashvili added that before 2012, only 3 TV channels had nationwide coverage, while today the number is 13. These three channels were transmitting thought the whole country and were supported by formal and informal means by the state authorities. Population of Georgia was unable to receive the signals of other stations than those three channels, who were supported, financed and promoted by the UNM government.

"Given all the above and with full respect to the position and recommendations of partners and friends of Georgia like you, openly blaming the Government, contrary to all evidence, in ongoing pressure on the private channel, in the interest to forcefully change the ownership and editorial policy with the aim of impeding the quality of democracy and free media, and in an attempt to manipulate the judiciary for a specific political outcome, strikes me as both unfair and ungrounded,” Kvirikashvili wrote.

He added that everyone should wait for the decision of the European Court of Human Rights over the Rustavi 2 case, as the court suspended the enforcement of Georgia’s Supreme Court verdict, which stated that former owner of the channel Kibar Khalvashi must gain back 100 percept shares of the media outlet.

MEPs called on the President of European Commission and the High Representative of the European Commission to critically assess the Georgian government’s actions towards the free media.

"Change of the channel’s ownership rights and resulting changes in its editorial policy – which will turn Rustavi2 into another government friendly media outlet – would seriously impede the quality of democracy and free media in Georgia. This would undermine Georgia’s ability to comply with the obligations it has undertaken as a signatory country of the Association Agreement with the European Union," the letter reads.

Some Georgian experts think that the initiative of the 17 member of the European Parliament damages the democratic system which is implemented in Georgia currently and which excludes any interference of the government in the court decisions, while the 17 members of EP indirectly are putting pressure on Georgian government to force the court receive pro-Rustavi 2 verdict.