Statement regarding the case of the Rustavi 2 TV station
On June 10, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld the judgment of the Tbilisi City Court in the case of the Rustavi 2 TV station. By the decision of the panel of judges, 100% of the stake in Rustavi 2 remained the property of Kibar Khalvashi.
The legal substantiation of the judgment delivered by the Court is yet to be handed to the parties. Therefore, non-governmental organizations will present a legal analysis of the decision only after the substantiated judgment of the Court of Appeals becomes public.
In spite of this, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of the case of Rustavi 2 in terms of democratic process in the country, transparency of the judicial system, and freedom of the media. The developments surrounding Rustavi 2 are a clear example of the weakness of the judicial branch of the government against political pressure in considering politically sensitive cases.
As the pre-election period has already officially started in Georgia and political parties are preparing for the October parliamentary elections, it is of key importance for the country whose media is still only partly free to ensure the existence of media outlets that are critical of ruling political groups. In spite of the legal proceedings against the channel, Rustavi 2 still remains one of the most popular and financially independent national broadcasters that are also critical of the authorities.
We believe that examination of the dispute related to the media outlet that is so important nationwide should be as immune as possible from the interference of political interest groups. However, the ownership and editorial policy of Rustavi 2 was actively discussed by various politicians and high officials both before and after the proceedings were launched in the court. Such statements confirm that the Georgian political elite still has severe problems in terms of attitudes to differing and critical opinion. In addition, despite the revocation of the November 5 ruling of Judge Urtmelidze regarding the appointment of temporary management, the argumentation in the said ruling clearly pointed to the court’s interference in issues related to the formation of the editorial policy. According to the ruling, the temporary managers selected by the judge were supposed to exercise control on the editorial policy, because, as the judge explained, there was a danger that “employees of Broadcasting Company Rustavi 2 LLC will mainly be concentrated solely on the coverage of issues surrounding the dispute.”
Despite the fact that the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia and the country’s international partners have been actively stating their position regarding the case of Rustavi 2 for almost one year, the aforementioned trend still continues. It is clear that the case of Rustavi 2 is going to remain one of the main topics of political struggle in the run-up to the elections, which is confirmed by statements of Bidzina Ivanishvili – founder and informal leader of Georgian Dream – regarding Rustavi 2.
It is important that political groups realize their responsibility in the pre-election period which is critical for the country and that they refrain from expressing their opinions about the ongoing dispute surrounding Rustavi 2 and, also, about the owners, management and editorial policy of the channel. Of decisive importance will be how the court of next instance decides the case and whether the Supreme Court manages to restore the public’s trust in the trial and ensures by its judgment adopted in connection with Rustavi 2 that the dispute remains within the legal limits.
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia)
Civil Development Agency (CiDA)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC)
Journalism Research and Advocacy Center
Black to Baltic Sea Alliance – Georgia