The need to de-politicize TV9
The television channel TV9 launched its broadcast via cable and satellite in April 2012 as a voice of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition. The station is owned by Ekaterine Khvedelidze, the wife of now Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (80%) and Kakha Kobiashvili, a close relative of Ivanishvili (20%). The channel was set up within only a few months, and attracted many reporters from other media outlets with high salaries. It has never been kept as a secret that Ivanishvili’s family was the channel’s sole source of financing.
According to data provided by the Georgian National Communications Commission, TV9’s revenue from advertising has been insignificant. Between May and August 2012, the channel reported income from advertising and other sources of GEL 177,365. This number highlights that TV9 has not been financially sustainable since the very beginning and it was fully depended on its owner’s subsidies.
Ahead of the parliamentary elections, the management, in what appeared to be a positive step, created a board of advisers, whose declared main purpose was to protect the editorial independence of the station. The board included former CNN talk show host Larry King; Les Gelb, the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations; Lee Hamilton, the New York Times’ international correspondent and editorial page editor and a former member of the United States House of Representatives; and Robert Menard, a French journalist. Giorgi Margvelashvili, formerly the head of GIPA, was the only Georgian in the board. He recently became Minister of Education under Ivanishvili.
Since the elections, Ivanishvili has made several statements about his plans to give up control over TV9. However, recent events involving TV9 do not suggest that political influence on the station is decreasing.
TV9’s director, Kakha Bekauri, left TV9 on November 29, citing the station’s ongoing reorganization as his motive. After Akaki Sikharulidze stepped down as a Commissioner of the GNCC on December 3, Bekauri is regarded as a potential candidate for a high-level position in the telecom and broadcast media regulator.
After Bekauri’s departure, 13 journalists, including Tamar Rukhadze, the head of the channel’s news room, left the station. Luba Eliashvili, the wife of Georgian Dream MP Shalva Shavgulidze who serves as first deputy head of the Parliament’s important legal issues committee, was appointed as the station’s new director. Unfortunately, the channel’s board of advisers since its establishment has failed to publicly speak out on developments around TV9 and has never addressed the channel’s strong political bias.
We have repeatedly stressed the importance of a de-politicization of the media sector. We believe that public officials, politicians and personalities associated to the government should not interfere in media affairs or directly or indirectly fund and control media assets. TV9 should make a stronger effort to disclose the significant financial flows its receives and ensure that the editorial independence and the rights of its reporters is respected and defended.
The Prime Minster’s family should consider ways to build a fire-wall between politics and their media assets (including Info9.ge and InfoTV and shares in Trialeti TV). Ideally, this could be done by selling these companies, or by creating an endowment that is overseen by an independent management. TV9’s editorial advisory board, however, appears to have failed in protecting the channel’s political independence.
Transparency International Georgia,
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association,
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy,