Civil society organizations respond to ongoing events at Maestro TV
In recent months Maestro TV has seen a number of leading journalists leave its ranks. The journalists explain their decision by pointing to attempts by the company’s owners to interfere with the activities of an independent television channel.
We believe that the events unfolded at Maestro TV call its editorial independence into question, undermine the principles of professional freedom of journalists, and violate the labor rights of its employees guaranteed by the Georgian law.
The dismissals of Nino Zhizhilashvili, anchor of the main 9:00pm program and head of Maestro TV’s newsroom, was followed by 20 other journalists leaving the channel. Among them were Nino Tolordava, another news program anchor, and the entire team of a comedy show Daily Pills. Maestro representatives, however, to this day deny the journalists’ assertions and attribute the recent events to a reorganization process taking place at the television company.
Nino Zhizhilashvili has stated that she had been planning to leave Maestro anyway, and that her decision was caused by the changes initiated by Maestro’s actual owner Kote Gogelia, which would result in scrapping of her 9:00pm news program. According to recent reports, Zhizhilashvili’s program will be replaced in the next season by a program called Tbilisi Speaking to be hosted by Koka Kandiashvili, the Public Relations Consultant at the Government Chancellery. Kandiashvili has made only a few general comments about the issue. Kote Gogelia eventually fired Zhizhilashvili after she and other journalists at Maestro newsroom criticized this decision.
This is not the first time that leading journalists have left Maestro TV. Another journalist Vakho Sanaia also left the company in September 2014. Sanaia made his first public statement about the decision only on December 24, stating that the company management was not happy with government criticism in his programs: “The director said that my programs could create problems and lead to Maestro having a serious disagreement with the government”. In October 2014, the anchors and the producer of a talk show Subjective Opinion also left the channel. The talk show’s anchors Diana Trapaidze and Teona Gegelia made the decision to leave Maestro TV also after their meeting with Kote Gogelia. All of this was preceded by Mamuka Ghlonti, founder of Maestro, making a statement in early 2013, in which he warned that a certain wing of the government had started a ‘fight with no rules’ against Maestro.
The journalists who left Maestro state that the actual owner of the channel Kote Gogelia actively interferes with its editorial activities in violation of the legally established principles of a broadcaster’s editorial independence and public accountability. It is unfortunate that the television company’s management does not protect its employees and is unable to guarantee their editorial independence.
According to Nino Zhizhilashvili, those Maestro employees, who should have been making decisions about the channel’s programs, were kept out of this process. Instead it is Koka Kandiashvili – an outside person and a public relations consultant to the government administration, who is directly involved in the decision making process. We believe that this contradicts with the principle of freedom of media and journalism, especially when, according to the journalists, the TV station's owners try not upset the government.
It should be noted that these changes at Maestro TV have been occurring with labor rights violations of journalists employed there. The company’s decisions to terminate labor contracts are in many cases a surprise for the remaining journalists. Such an attitude from an employer might negatively affect these employees by limiting their professional freedom and independence.
We believe that the responsibility to uphold media freedom and editorial independence lies not only with the government but also with the owners and management of the TV companies. We urge all responsible persons to respect the abovementioned principles and to act in accordance with the Georgian legislation.
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC)
Article 42 of the Constitution