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Iberia TV Journalists Accuse Gov’t Officials of Pressure

By Tea Mariamidze
Wednesday, September 12
Journalists of Georgia’s Iberia TV speak of the pressure from the government through creating financial problems for Omega Group Company, which is the main financial donor of Iberia TV.

The journalists say the current situation indicates there is an unhealthy media environment in the country, adding it affects the interest of the public, especially in the pre-election period when citizens are in the process of making important political decisions.

On September 9 opposition-minded Rustavi 2 TV released an audio recording, which allegedly involves the conversation of Omega 3 Director Zaza Okuashvili and former Minister of Sports, Levan Kipiani.

The person referred as Levan Kipiani tells Zaza Okuashvili about the details of the conversation with Ucha Mamatsashvili, cousin of the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD) founder and ex-pm, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The audio file revealed that Mamatsashvili allegedly was negotiating with the government to solve Omega Group's financial problems and planned to meet with the former prime minister to discuss this issue.

The recording also reveals that person referred as Mamatsashvili asked for $2 million and TV Company Iberia in exchange for solving problems of Omega Group. The authenticity of the recording has not been established yet.

After the controversial recording, the journalists of Iberia held a protest rally and marched to the governmental administration. They say the authorities want the TV Company to suspend operation.

According to Vakho Khuzmiashvili, head of the news department of the channel, this is not the first attempt of pressure on the TV Company.

“We made such a statement even 7 months ago that the authorities imposed financial pressure on Omega Group to make us stop functioning,” he added.

The journalists of Iberia also call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to launch an investigation into the recording, released by Rustavi 2 a few days ago.

Georgia’s Finance Ministry released a statement regarding Omega Group several days ago, saying the company has Gel 51 million debt to the state, as it was not paying tax for a long time.

The ministry added they would carry out necessary measures against the company if the debt is not paid on time.

Finance Minister, Ivane Machavariani says that Omega Group is using media to avoid paying its taxes.

“It is shameful and unacceptable when some companies use media as the tool of blackmail to avoid paying taxes. This is people’s money, and it has to be paid in the budget,” the minister said.

Members of the ruling party believe the release of such recording during the pre-election period is “ridiculous.”

“We do not need Iberia TV. We could have set up our TV station, but it is the matter of ethics. The government does not need such a media outlet. We need independent and critical media,” GD majority head, Archil Talakvadze stated.

However, the opposition parties have a different opinion. They believe that ahead of the October 28 presidential elections, the government wants to pressure independent media outlets.

“Ivanishvili and his team’s strategic task is to control media outlets. They could not do it to Rustavi 2, but now they are now trying to pressure Iberia TV,” Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of the parliamentary minority European Georgia stated.

Charter of Journalistic Ethics of Georgia has also released a statement regarding the recent developments around Iberia TV, saying they are closely watching the situation and call on the law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation into the case.

“The Charter of Journalistic Ethics of Georgia calls on the founders of Omega Group and the government not to involve journalists in the misunderstanding between the state and the Company,” the statement reads.

Iberia TV also spoke about pressure and financial problems in February 2018. The TV Company claimed that the Omega Group was "under serious financial hardship" and urged the authorities to "prevent illegal actions against the company.”