DRI – The events developed in the Adjara TV represent an overt attempt to control the media
The Democracy Research Institute is responding to the events developed in the Public Broadcaster’s Adjara TV and notes that the unjustified and repeated dismissals of employees with critical opinions pose a threat to the freedom of thought and expression, undermine the impartial editorial policy of the Public Broadcaster’s Adjara TV and Radio and represent an overt attempt of the government to control the media.
The Democracy Research Institute emphasizes that the dismissal of a person on the grounds of his/her speech, opinion and/or political, public or professional activities contains signs of a crime under Georgian criminal law and requires an assessment by the relevant authorities. In this regard, the timely and objective investigation of allegations of pressure and coercion against Giorgi Kokhreidze, Director of the Adjara TV, is especially important.[1]
About a year ago, the Supreme Council of Adjara staffed the Advisory Board with new members, most of whom were nominated by the Georgian Dream party.[2] In the autumn of 2019, the new Advisory Board elected Giorgi Kokhreidze as director of the channel, who was considered a candidate backed by the Georgian Dream.
The election of the new director was followed by radical changes in the channel. The director repeatedly criticized the channel's editorial policy and journalists, while on April 8, 2020, he unilaterally approved the Code of Conduct on the Internet/Social Network for the Employees of the Public Broadcaster's Adjara TV and Radio.[3] The document obliges employees to immediately inform the channel management of any criticism of the channel on the Internet/social network and not to post any information inappropriate for the channel's reputation on the Internet/social network. These and other changes make some journalists think that the channel's editorial policy is in danger and that the newly elected director continues to control the news broadcasted by the television.
On May 11, 2020, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, presenter of the Hashtag programme and chairman of the alternative trades union, was fired due to his critical views. The director named discredit and defamation as the motive for the decision, which may not be the grounds for the termination of the employment contract and unequivocally contradicts the principles of freedom of expression.
In addition, Eter Turmanidze, presenter of the Adjara TV’s news programme, was removed from her position and disciplinary proceedings were initiated against her, after she expressed her views on the social network.
The protest of the civil sector has not been able to stop the cases of dismissals of Adjara TV journalists, sudden changes in their contracts and their positions. Over the past year, the channel has fired the journalists, who had been working on news and thus had been creating critical information, including the head of the news programme, the editor, reporter and presenters of the news programme, as well as the deputy director through disciplinary proceedings.
Journalists of the Adjara TV also think that three big programmes - Hashtag, Morning Wave and Radiovision may be canceled by the end of May.
The Democracy Research Institute believes that the events developed around the Adjara Public Broadcaster, the discriminatory practice of dismissing employees or making sudden changes in the employees’ contracts and positions cast doubts not only on the situation of the employees’ rights, but also threaten the idea of independent public broadcasting.
Accordingly, the Democracy Research Institute calls on:
The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia:
To launch an investigation into the allegations of pressure and coercion against the director of the channel.
The Advisory Board of Adjara TV:
To exercise their powers under law and ensure the editorial independence of the channel.
International organizations and embassies accredited in Georgia:
To express their clear opinion in support of the editorial independence of the Adjara TV and Radio of the Public Broadcaster.
[1] Journalist Natia Zoidze, who is Deputy Director of the Public Broadcaster’s Adjara TV and Radio, alleges that Giorgi Kokhreidze, incumbent Director of the Adjara Public Broadcaster, demanded that she stay away from the editorial policy of the channel; otherwise, he threatened to make certain information public.