The opposition Free Democrats and Republican parties on June 16 protested in front of the building of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) in Tbilisi, criticizing the management of the broadcaster for planning to shut down several TV talk shows.
“The management of the Georgian Public Broadcaster have made a shameful decision to close down exactly those TV shows which have principal importance in order for the GPB to fulfill its requirements,” the parties said.
“With this decision, the management of the Georgian Public Broadcaster serves the Government of Georgia, with the aim to monopolize the media environment and restrict critical thinking and freedom of expression… The government now is trying to [make] the Georgian Public Broadcaster refuse its independence and betray its purpose set by law and betray public service,” reads the joint statement of the Republicans and Free Democrats.
The TV shows that will be closed on the Georgian Public Broadcaster include “Red Zone,” hosted by Gogi Gvakharia, and “ინტერview,” hosted by Salome Asatiani. In addition to those talk shows, “Washington today” on the Voice of America will also be closed, as well as the shows “Vector” by Irakli Tabliashvili and “Unknown Music” by Kakha Tolordava, according to the decision of the new management. The shows are known for promoting critical thinking.
The Chairman of the Supervisory Council of the GPB, Grigol Gogelia, told a parliament hearing on June 16 that some people like the shows while others don’t, and that there are constant demonstrations outside the broadcaster building.
“During one of the parliamentary committee meetings in May, we were categorically asked to close down Gogi Gvakharia’s show,” Gogelia said. Further information was not elaborated on this point.
According to Radio Free Liberty, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said the decision was “disappointing, as both programs have made an important contribution to public discourse and political development in Georgia.” He said the company is exploring other options, and is optimistic that the shows will continue on other platforms.
GPB elected a new Director General, Vasil Maglapareidze, in January 2017. Maglapareidze previously worked at GDS TV, which is owned by former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s family, and was also the Director General of Channel 9, also founded by Ivanishvili. Several civil society groups, including Transparency International Georgia, have expressed concern that Maglapareidze is not a “politically neutral person.”
Maglapareidze revealed a three year action-plan in February 2017 which showed the management’s intention to save 15 million GEL by cutting down on staff and shutting down programming.