GEO

Politically Motivated Self-Censorship? The Case of Forbes Georgia

03 April, 2012

Ahead of the Parliamentary elections in fall, developments in the Georgian media landscape largely reflect the polarized and tense political environment.

Revaz Sakevarishvili, a prominent Georgian journalist, resigned from his post of editor-in-chief of Forbes Georgia on March 27. At a press-conference he held the same day, alleging that since the Georgian edition of Forbes was launched in fall 2011, Gagik Eghizaryan, co-founder of Media Partners and holder of the Forbes publishing rights, had often interfered into his editorial work.

In its March edition, the US edition of Forbes ran a prominent story on Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarch and opposition leader who currently ranks 153rd in the magazine’s list of billionaires. Sakevarishvili told TI Georgia that under these circumstances, it seemed logical to do an interview with Ivanishvili specifically for Forbes Georgia. According to Sakevarishvili, Eghizaryan did not like the questions that Sakevarishvili had prepared for the interview with Ivanishvili and offered him a series of questions in return that stepped around political issues and focused on "rather abstract topics", Sakevarishvili says.

Sakevarishvili told TI Georgia that he is convinced that Eghizaryan tried avoid to upset Gela Bazhuashvili, currently head of Georgia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sakevarishvili claims that during their conversations, the founder of Media Partners had repeatedly emphasized his close ties with Bezhuashvili. Both, Eghizaryan and Bezhuashvili, attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2003/2004.

Following Sakevarishvili’s announcement about his resignation, Media Partners released a statement, saying that the publishing house had fired Sakevarishvili for plagiarizing questions in his interview with Ivanishvili from an interview the billionaire had given to the Russian business daily Vedomosti in 2005:

Using and/or republishing the article belonging to other edition publisher is considered a serious copyright infringement and a vivid demonstration of unprofessional conduct. No publisher, truly concerned with preserving the corporate reputation and image of the publishing house, would allow this malpractice.

The story has no link with censorship or suppressing editorial independence and can only be qualified as a legal case dealing with ethical issues of publishing business.

Revaz Sakevarishvili was dismissed from the position of Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Georgia for violating editorial politics, legal and ethical norms that according to his contract he was to be loyal to and follow.

Any announcement made from the part of Revaz Sakevarishvili about resigning from his previously held position in protest is not true.

After his resignation, Revaz Sakevarishvili decided to publish the disputed interview he did with Ivanhishvili online. “At the end of the day, this interview has been read by over 3,000 [Forbes Georgia’s circulation, according to Sakevarishvili] people and it is open for anyone concerned to judge on his own as to what questions I have asked Bidzina Ivanishvili and what the implications underlying Gagik Eghizaryan’s dislike of them may be” Sakevarishvili told TI Georgia.

Forbes Georgia is published by Media Partners JSC (under license from Forbes Media), a Georgian company owned by Gagik Eghizaryan (50%, a citizen of Armenia) and Arutun Pogosian (a Canadian of Armenian origin, 50%). Eghizaryan also publishes the Armenian edition of Cosmopolitan. According to a recent edition of the Harvard Kennedy School Magazine, he is also the founder and managing partner of an Armenian consulting firm with a subsidiary in Kazakhstan, was the first CEO of the Armenian Development Agency, and served as a deputy Minister of Industry and Trade and as deputy Minister of Privatization and Foreign Investments.

Sakevarishvili has worked in the Georgian media since 1996. He has worked in different media sources including Radio Liberty, the daily newspaper 24 Hours and business programs on Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV.

At TI Georgia, we believe that any outside interference into editorial policies is unacceptable. Furthermore, we think that self-censorship remains a very serious problem in a large number of media outlets and is an issue that should be featured more prominently in the public debate in Georgia. The Media Coalition, a civil society group advocating for free media of which TI Georgia is a member, has also expressed its concern over the case.

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Author: Lika Basilaia–Shavgulidze, Mathias Huter
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