Non-freedom of speech nurtured by Tbilisi05.05.2011 | 13:27
Freedom House, an international rights defending organization has published an annual rating of freedom of speech with Georgia scoring 55 points and ranked 118th in the list next to Moldavia and Malawi (a country on the western coast of Africa). Yet, even now Tbilisi finds a reason for joy. As it turns out, last year the situation was worse. In an interview with GeorgiaTimes one of Georgia's influential experts Giya Nodia tried to give an unbiased view of the national media market.
Freedom House is a serious organization of a scrupulous approach. Its ratings are prepared with great deliberation with every detail well checked. As a result, any intelligence service can envy its knowledge of the sphere of freedom of speech. FH employees are aware of most insignificant events that deal with their activities like, for instance, the opening of a newspaper in a deep province of Bulgaria or citizens of a right-bank district of the Kongo's left tributary in Angola getting familiar with the radio.
Georgia's media market too, is open to the Freedom House analysis. Its experts were right to raise the country's rating last year: positive dynamics was due to the long-awaited launch of Maestro channel satellite broadcast and the opening of the second public broadcaster that features oppositional activists in its programs. It will be remembered that it has taken Maestro a very long time to acquire this right. Because of the obstacles set by the authorities, FH had to lower the republic's rating last year.
Other achievements of Georgia's media sphere are a new law that makes information on owners and financial activities of all TV companies available to the public. However, the breakthrough far away so far: the lion's share of mass media problems have not been solved over this year.
Let's take a keen look on Maestro's activities. The TV company is constantly in the middle of scandal that even the authorities are afraid to get in touch with scandalous TV men. Last Sunday the company's employees "played a dirty trick" on the authorities, or the Ministry of Interior to be more precise, by being the first to show the scene of Sandro Girgvilianis' murder in 2006. Viewers could see the blood-stained body of the young man as well as records of various inquest procedures and witnesses in interrogation. All the materials was meant for the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and it is clear that the officers of Georgia's Ministry of Interior are to blame for Girgvliani's death.
Hardly had the story appeared on the screen when Vasil Sanodze, head of the Georgian Ministry of the Interior's general inspection decided to commit suicide. His birthday was the last day when Girgvliani was seen alive. Then a conflict sprang up between Sandro and the policemen resulting in the young man's death. We can't state that the events are interconnected but there are things to think about. Maestro journalists that took Sunday's story onto the screen risked a lot. Now, however, after Sanodze's suicide attempt, Georgia's interior authorities have no time to deal with TV.
Indeed, Maestro is an indicator of relations between mass media and the authorities. Starting satellite broadcast does not mean that next year the situation will be as smooth and successful as today. For instance, presently there is a lawsuit between the TV company and Silknet, the IT monopolist, underway with the latter charging a around amount for communication services. Some oppositional politicians like Jondi Bagaturia, for instance, call this conflict "pressure on freedom of speech".
However, the leader of pro-opposition TV can die away on its own under pressure of internal squabbles without any "help" of the authorities. The channel finances several large pro-opposition business structures. To some extent, Maestro is a voicer of the oppositional Georgian Party with one of its leaders - Erosi Kitsmarishvili - being a "paymaster" of the channel.
Until recently Utsnobi or Giya Gachechiladze, a famous showman of Georgia, was the owner of half of the TV company's shares. Not long ago it was reported that he had transferred 25% of the holding to the wife of Kota Gogelia, a businessman that finances the Georgian Party. The news was announced by Badri Patarkatsishvili's former spokesman who also informed that the transfer operation maddens Mamuka Glonti, one of Maestro founders who had to organize a "debriefing" with Erosi Kitsmarisvhili. This information has not been confirmed yet. At least, protagonists of the mysterious history deny any conflict involving the TV company shares. Maestro's numerous founders, sponsors and directors are disunited like the entire opposition of Georgia. That is why the last source of freedom on Georgia's TV can simply dry out.
On the whole, the media market of the Caucasian republic has not much to boast of for Freedom House expect for successes of the country's unique oppositional TV company. GeorgiaTimes asked Giya Nodia, a prominent Georgian politologist to make an unbiased analysis of the freedom of speech in Georgia and explain why the country has such a low rating of mass media freedom.