Fair Resolution of Rustavi-2 Case Is Important
Supreme Court of Georgia has reached the decisive stage of producing a decision in the Rustavi-2 case. The court's ruling will determine whether the decision by the Tbilisi Court of Appeal, to award 100% of Rustavi-2's shares to Qiban Khalvashi will remain in force.
Transparency International Georgia has criticized the judiciary's handling of the Rustavi-2 case on multiple occasions. We believe that political motivation was evident in the manner in which the Rustavi-2 case was resolved. Transparency International Georgia has made critical statements at different stages of the process regarding various kinds of violations which, due to their nature, could raise questions about the lawfulness of the entire legal proceeding.
- The Rustavi-2 process in court was notable for the judge’s biased attitude. Explicit example of this is Judge Tamaz Urtmelidze’s ruling of 5 November, on the one hand, contradicted the law, while, on the other hand, being an example of blatant interference in the activities of independent media, particularly since the judge’s main substantiating argument regarding the appointment of a provisional manager for the channel was based on the criticism of the broadcaster’s editorial policy. The adjudication of the case coincided with the institution of legal proceedings against the judge’s family members by the Prosecutor’s Office, which occurred with a delay of a year and a half. Despite the fact that, according to procedural legislation, the judge had the opportunity to discuss issues without verbal hearing on certain occasions, bearing in mind existing high interest and the irregularities that had been detected, it would have been preferable to for the Supreme Court to hold verbal hearings in order to raise trust and ensure transparency. It is noteworthy that, on 20 May, the Chamber of Civil Cases of Supreme Court abolished the judgement of Tbilisi Court of Appeal on a case similar to that of Rustavi-2 (N AS-1224-1149-2015) and sent it back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration.
- The decisions made by the Civil and the Appeal courts in the case concerning the ownership of Rustavi-2 have a clear negative impact the on pluralistic media environment. Georgian media environment has been markedly polarized for many years, while editorial policies have been influenced by the owners of media outlets and individuals driven by political interests. In this situation, every broadcaster is valuable for the public as a source of comprehensive information about current affairs. This is particularly true given the influence of TV channels on public opinion since television is a primary source of information for a large majority of the population.
- It should also be emphasized that deciding on a case in a manner similar to the one applied in the courts of first two instances could produce problems in the future in terms of adjudication of ownership disputes.
- The country’s current practice of adjudicating ownership disputes will be similarly detrimental to investment climate because of the low standards of defending property rights will create an unfavorable situation for investors.
- There have been multiple questions regarding Rustavi-2's ownership over the years. These questions were especially acute in connection with the transfer of Rustavi-2's shares by Qibar Khalvashi. We therefore believe that, the so called restoration of justice being the court’s aim, handing over Rustavi-2 to Qibar Khalvashi does not merit such an assessment.
We consider the government’s attempts to fight against critical media outlets in this manner unacceptable. We believe that, in the current situation, defending the editorial independence and the journalists of Rustavi-2 is in the country’s best interests since a diverse media will facilitate the establishment of high standards of democracy in the country.