On the night of the 17th of February, Zaal Udumashvili, the Deputy Director General of Rustavi 2, spoke on live broadcast that the channel would be switching off entirely for one day on Saturday, February 18, in protest and defence of the broadcaster’s rights. The broadcaster has been in an ownership dispute in various courts since August 2015. Rustavi 2 and several opposition parties see the ownership dispute as a political move to take over the channel and control its editorial policy, as the channel is known to be critical of the Georgian Dream government. Rustavi 2 is the biggest TV network in Georgia and has the country’s largest audience.
Rustavi 2 is holding a demonstration planned to be held in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday, February 19, in support of the broadcaster’s independence and in support of media freedoms. In the place of its regular broadcasting, the channel has a fixed message on the screen: “We are protesting injustice! On Sunday at 14:30, we will be gathering on Rustaveli!” Rustaveli avenue is the main street in central Tbilisi.
On November 21, the Supreme Court of Georgia began hearings concerning the ownership of Rustavi. Rustavi 2 is appealing the decisions made by Tbilisi City Court and the Appellate Court on granting 100% of the TV company’s shares to Kibar Khalvashi and his company Panorama. Khalvashi’s sister, Phaty Khalvashi, is a member of Georgian Dream party and an MP for the Kobuleti District.
Activists from the UNM opposition party recently held a demonstration on February 13 regarding the Rustavi 2 case in front of Tbilisi City Hall; they protested against a city hall decision to give 1 million GEL to the brother of one of the judges in the Appellate Court who was ruling over the Rustavi 2 ownership case. The money is officially in compensation for damage to property caused by a June 2015 flood in Tbilisi. Opposition leaders are saying the money is to award the judge for siding with the government’s wishes in the Rustavi 2 case.
Earlier in February, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia said they were approached by two judges of the Supreme Court with an investigation request regarding intervention in the judges’ work. The two judges had passed the Rustavi 2 case to the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court in November 2016.