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The regime and opposition divide up TV Channel Rustavi 22008-12-04 18:00
Another war for the airwaves has begun in Tbilisi. Passions have still not subsided over the Imedi (‘Hope') TV channel. For almost a year the opposition has been demanding that it be returned to its lawful owners, which would allow the disgraced TV channel that suffered because of the political views of its owner Badri Patarkatsishvili to resume full-scale broadcasts. Now heated arguments have again flared up, this time over the main voice of the ‘Rose Revolution', TV channel Rustavi 2.
To begin with, its founder and former ambassador to Russia Erosi Kitsmarishvili declared that he would take the country's leadership to court for "expropriating" his shares in the TV company. A few days later the Georgian businessman and the channel's former director general Kibar Khalvashi demanded that the general prosecutor's office launch an investigation into the illegal "seizure" of two channels by the regime - Rustavi 2 and "MZE".
How will the situation develop in the future? It is difficult to predict. Although there is, admittedly, a precedent with Imedi.
In late 2007 this TV channel was stormed by the elite tactical police in order to teach its owner not to make anti-government declarations any more. Imedi only resumed broadcasting in May 2008. The West had been insisting on this. It has wanted to see Georgia as a beacon of democracy in the Caucasus, but such methods of getting rid of dissenting media are characteristic of authoritarian rulers - for example, Venezuela's leader.
Following insistent recommendations from foreign politicians and public organizations, Imedi's broadcasting licence was restored and the sequestration of its property was lifted. However, the channel's output has changed: it still does not yet broadcast any opposition programmes (or even political ones altogether). The authorities explain this by pointing to a change in the channel's owner.
Following the death of Badri Patarkatsishvili early this year, it was expected that the TV company would pass to his widow Inna Gudavadze. However, Patarkatsishvili's step brother Joseph Kay, a US citizen, declared his right to it: it emerged that Imedi's property had been reregistered in his name. But other family members and representatives of the Georgian opposition accused Joseph Kay of fraud and using forged documents. In their opinion, he had made dealings with the Georgian authorities in whose interest it was to deprive the TV channel of any opposition leanings. Especially because Joseph Kay himself promised that from now on, Imedi wouldn't have anything to do with politics. The amount of legal proceedings between the oligarch's widow and the American is going through the roof, but the situation still remains unchanged.
A similar scenario could feasibly be repeated with Rustavi 2. Kitsmarishvili and Khalvashi could sue the regime for their shares in the Tv company for all of eternity.
On the other hand, now other things are at stake. International observers are demanding that the Georgian authorities remove any "official or unofficial control over television and guarantee freedom of expression in the country". Otherwise the country will be deprived of $4.5 billion worth of donor aid. Perhaps that is why the authorities are refraining from making any comment about Kitsmarishvili and Khalvashi's claims to shares in Rustavi 2. It is somewhat surprising that employees for the TV company themselves are not reacting to their declarations.