Statement of NGOs on TV company Maestro
On February 2nd shares were reallocated for the television company Maestro; according to the Georgian Public Registry partners Giorgi Gachechiladze (aka Utsnobi) became the owner of the controlling stake (55%). Gachechiladze acquired shares from his partners - Giorgi Ebralidze and Levan Chikvaidze, 15% from each.
It appears that there was a notarized agreement between Giorgi Gachechiladze and another Maestro partner, Maka Asatiani. (Asatiani owns 25% of the company, she is the company’s major investor.) The company’s management did not expect this to occur. The agreement would enter into existence after seizure is lifted from currently frozen shares of Maestro. According to the document, Giorgi Gachechiladze agreed to sell 25% of his shares to Maka Asatiani for a symbolic 400 GEL and in exchange Asatiani would invest in the company. The management of Maestro says that Gachechiladze refused to meet the terms of the agreement; quite the opposite has happened as he increased his shares in the company.
Gachechiladze said that Irakli Rukhadze lent him funding to acquire more shares. Rukhadze manages companies owned by the family of the deceased tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. Patarkatsishvili’s businesses include TV company Imedi, a competitor of Maestro.
Gachechiladze called the partners’ meeting to fire director of Maestro Eter (Baya) Gadabadze and to appoint a new director. However, Gachechiladze publicly denied that he was about to fire management or staff. According to media reports, on February 2nd Gachechiladze met with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Gachechiladze’s lawyer deny these reports. It is unclear whether Maestro was discussed in this meeting.
Maka Asatiani distanced herself from Gachechiladze and is about to launch legal proceedings.
The management of the channel thinks that these events have a political motivation. There is an ongoing bankruptcy proceedings against Maestro. The company has debts over tens of millions of GEL, hence, as thought by the management, Gachechiladze should not have any financial interest in the company. The right of the name and the logo of the company is also disputed among the shareholders and so is the agreement between Gachechiladze and Asatiani.
We are concerned that the case is politically motivated even though this is a private dispute. Maestro is the third most watched channel in Georgia and these unexpected developments only a few months before the Parliamentary elections in Georgia are alarming.
The case of Maestro intensifies doubts of civil society that the government wants to establish control over media prior to elections. In the summer of 2015 similar events occurred around ownership of TV company Rustavi 2. The private dispute there also bore political undertones.
It is vital that the owners of the controlling stake do not take hasty decisions to fire management or staff and wait until the case is resolved by the court. This would be a sign that their aim is to develop the company rather than hinder its operation or limit editorial independence.
It is of the utmost importance that civil society, media and the general public are kept updated as events develop around Maestro. This would eliminate risks of political control over the popular TV station and would quiet speculation around the topic. We call on parties in the dispute to negotiate while ensuring transparency.
Transparency International Georgia
Media Development Foundation (MDF)
Civil Development Agency (Cida)
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
Baltic to Black Sea Alliance
Economic Policy Research Center