Timeline of Georgian Dream’s Efforts to Seize Adjara TV
The ruling party intensified its efforts to gain influence on Adjara TV in April 2019 with the unjustified impeachment of Natia Kapanadze, the director of Adjara TV and Radio Company. The impeachment itself took place in the situation when under Kapanadze’s tenure, the broadcaster, according to the assessments of local and international organizations, was seen as comparatively balanced and impartial in the polarized environment. Subsequently, the government took a number of steps to finally gain influence on Adjara TV.
01.11.2018. The Supreme Council of Adjara elected Giga Chkhartishvili as a member of the Advisory Councilof Adjara TV and Radio Company through Georgian Dream’s quota.
11.04.2019. Two members of the Council, Giga Chkhartishvili and Irakli Dartsmelidze (National Movement’s quota) demanded the impeachment of Natia Kapanadze, the director of Adjara TV, accusing her of neglecting the priorities, decline of ratings and mismanagement of public funds. The civil society organizations denounced the decision. Statements were also released by international organizations.
19.04.2019. The Advisory Council supported Natia Kapanadze’s impeachment. Her First Deputy, Natia Zoidze became the Acting Director.
25.04.2019. The Advisory Council announced the first competition to fill the vacant seat of the Director of Adjara TV and Radio. Giorgi Kokhreidze, incumbent director, also took part in the competition. However, the competition was thwarted as no candidates gained enough votes. It is worth noting that none of the previous members of the Council voted for Kokhreidze.
30.04.2019. Natia Kapanadze challenged the Council’s decision on her dismissal in court. However, no court hearing has been scheduled so far. In addition, Kapanadze requested the court to suspend the competition on selection of a new director as well as the act of announcing her impeachment by the Advisory Council pending final verdict, but the court rejected her request.
03.06.2019. Acting Director Natia Zoidze, who was one of the candidates for the director’s position, released a statement, saying that she was warned by the ruling team not to participate in the competition. “Inaction would mean nothing but being the government’s accomplice, because it was clear that the government was preparing a desirable candidate [for the director’s position],” Natia Zoidze said.
03.06.2019. The advisory Council announced the second competition to select the new director. Giorgi Kokhreidze again participated in the competition, but no one voted for him. The Council again failed to elect the director.
15.07.2019. The previous members of the Advisory Council announced a new competition once again. Giorgi Kokhreidze participated in the competition for the third time and unexpectedly received two votes. At least three votes were needed to elect a candidate as the director. The second round was held, but the votes were divided and the competition was once again thwarted.
17.07.2019. Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling party, openly expressed discontent towards Adjara TV’s editorial policy; other top officials echoed Ivanishvili’s stance with Tornike Rizhvadze, the head of Adjara’s government, calling on the TV host “to calm down” and Parliament’s Vice Speaker Gia Volski threatening Adjara TV journalist with suspending accreditation. In addition, Irakli Kobakhidze, former Parliament Speaker and one of Georgian Dream’s leaders, accused the journalist of pursuing the interests of the opposition party.
25.08.2019. The competition on selecting the new director was announced for the fourth time.
24.09.2019. A day before the end of competition, the Advisory Council suspended the competition citing a disputable court judgment. The lawsuit was filed by Giorgi Kokhreidze, who claimed that he had won the third competition and should have been elected as a director. He demanded suspension of the competition announced by the Advisory Council for the fourth time before the ruling into the case entered into legal force. The court accepted this request.
Kokhreidze claimed that three members of the Advisory Council attended the competition for selecting the director with two of them voting in favor of his candidacy. So, Kokhreidze noted that he was elected the director with a majority vote. In fact, the fourth member also attended the interview. He simply did not take part in the voting.
27.09.2019. Acting Director of Adjara TV, Natia Zoidze and part of journalists met with the representatives of civil society organizations. They expressed fear that the government used the court to gain time by suspending the competition to ensure that the tenure of the current Advisory council would expire and the new Council composed of pro-government members would elect the new director.
30.09.2019. Part of Adjara TV journalists made a special statement warning about the risks of possible changes in the broadcaster’s editorial policy: “We have a reasonable expectation that the developments of the past six months are coming to an end and they will trigger changes in the vector of the broadcaster’s editorial policy.”
25.10.2019. The Supreme Council of Adjara elected three new members of the Advisory Council. Ultimately, three out of four incumbent members of the Council have been elected through the Georgian Dream’s quota. Discussions on the issues related to selecting and nominating the candidates, as well as generally to outlining the principles of quotas were underway amid strong confrontation. The National Movement boycotted the process and did not name its candidate. So, the new competition was announced to fill the National Movement’s quota.
18.11.2019. The Court of Appeal annulled the ruling of Batumi City Court, which suspended the competition for selecting the director of Adjara TV and Radio Company based on Giorgi Kokhreidze’s lawsuit. Accordingly, the competition resumed.
20.11.2019. Although the court ruling into Kokhreidze’s case, in which he claimed that he won the third competition, was still pending, he still took part in the fourth competition announced for the director’s vacant position.
22.11.2019. Giorgi Kokhreidze garnered two votes in the first and three votes in the second round, respectively, and became the director of Adjara TV and Radio Company.
22.11.2019. On the very first day of his tenure, Giorgi Kokhreidze reprimanded Adjara TV journalists for their critical tone and noted that “you should not irritate the guests; you should criticize them like your brothers and children.” He cited the TV channel itself as the reason behind public officials’ refusal to participate in its programs.
22.11.2019. During a live broadcast, Giorgi Kokhreidze openly hinted that Natia Zoidze needed to resign from the first deputy director’s position, prompting part of journalists from Adjara TV’s newsroom to make a statement, in which they expressed support to Zoidze and slammed the appointment of the new director as an attempt to change the TV channel’s editorial policy, making it pro-government.
25.11.2019. Adjara TV consultants, Marina Vashakmadze and Zviad Koridze resigned from the broadcaster in a protest against the election of the new director. They both assumed office under Natia Kapanadze’s tenure.
30.11.2019. Natia Zoidze said that the newly elected director threatened her with criminal prosecution unless she distanced herself from the editorial policy.
02.12.2019. Internal inquiry was launched into the alleged fact of the transfer of archival materials by Natia Zoidze to the member of Adjara TV’s Advisory Council free of charge.
03.12.2019. The staff of Hashtag program released a statement in response to the director’s criticism, who accused the TV program of bias. The journalists accused the director of trying to interfere with the TV channel’s editorial policy and demanded an apology from him.
04.12.2019. Part of Adjara TV journalists held a protest rally, holding the posters reading: “Count us,” “Do not interfere,” “Read our articles rather than correspondence.” They called on Giorgi Kokhreidze to stop making groundless accusations, surveillance, blackmail, as well as attacking and discrediting the TV staff.
05.12.2019. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria met with the Adjara TV staff and the director. Lomjaria stressed the importance of building trust between the staff and the director and noted that the rule of composing the Advisory Council should be changed.
23.12.2019 – Police interrogated Natia Zoidze, deputy director of Adjara TV and Radio Company, over the complaint filed by her to the Prosecutor’s Office. According to the complaint, new director, Giorgi Kokhreidze threatened to make her telephone conversations public unless she distanced herself from the editorial policy. Furthermore, Adjara TV’s director accused Zoidze of committing a criminal offence.
23.12.2019 – Upon her return from police department, Natia Zoidze discovered that Giorgi Kokhreidze had revised her labor contract, depriving her of the right to manage the editorial policy, to fulfill program priorities and control the performance of official duties, thus making her responsible only for “developing/submitting periodic analysis and reports”.
01.01.2020 – A labor contract with Natia Shavadze, producer of Adjara TV’s newsroom, who had been critical of the channel’s new management, was not renewed.
08.01.2020 – Adjara TV’s director terminated disciplinary procedures against Natia Zoidze.
28.01.2020 – Part of Adjara TV employees founded an alternative trade union to protect their own rights.
“I cannot assume responsibility for what they do not allow me to do,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
05.02.2020 - International Organisation “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF), asssed Zoidze’s resignation as “political pressure.”
14.02.2020 – Disciplinary procedures were launched against Shorena Glonti, head of Adjara TV’s newsroom due to a TV program aired by the broadcaster a year ago through cooperation with the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
16-17.02.2020 – A solidarity rally was held in several cities of Georgia, including Batumi, Kutaisi and Tbilisi to support the employees of Adjara TV. The participants mainly focused on persecution of undesirable employees by Giorgi Kokhreidze and a threat of losing the broadcaster’s editorial independence.
17.02.2020 – “Editorial independence of Adjara TV is endangered ” – eight political parties released a special statement, laying the responsibility for recent developments at the broadcaster on Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, as well as Adjara TV director, Giorgi Kokhreidze.
19.02.2020 – Georgian Public Defender released a statement, expressing concern over the developments at Adjara TV, which threaten media pluralism and negatively affect freedom of expression in the country. She called on the broadcaster’s advisory council to critically review the proposed staff changes.
21.02.2020 – Vakho Khuzmiashvili was elected as the deputy director of Adjara TV through a closed competition. He served as a producer and a journalist at various TV channels. Prior to this new appointment, he worked as the director of Primetime news agency.
22.02.2020 – Despite the calls from the Public Defender and civil society organizations to critically review staff changes proposed by the management, the advisory council accepted the proposal. According to the new changes, four positions of deputy heads were abolished, among them the position of deputy head of newsroom, Maia Merkviladze, who was known for her critical position towards the new management.
24.02.2020 – Adjara TV director Giorgi Kokhreidze decided to replace Maia Merkviladze by Nino Khazhomia as the news editor. For years, Nino Khazhomia worked at Rustavi 2 TV’s “60 Minutes” program and later at Real TV. Since 2018, she served as the host of a morning program at currently closed Iberia TV.
Merkviladze was offered to work as a producer of a new talk show and an editor of radio newsroom. She accepted the proposal, citing the need to continue her struggle as the reason behind her decision.
25.02.2020 – Journalist Nino Khozrevanidze quit her position as a sign of protest. “I do not see any sense to stay for the sake of a salary, as working under your management is unacceptable for me,” she wrote in the letter sent to the broadcaster’s director.
28.02.2020 - Shorena Glonti was dismissed as the head of Adjara TV’s newsroom. According to the letter sent to her, she could not stay in the same position following an inquest and would be transferred to another position.
28.02.2020 – Nino Khazhomia, Adjara TV’s news editor, decided to quit the position four days after the appointment. She, however, continued working at the broadcaster.
28.02.2020 – By the end of the main news program, part of journalists held a minute of silence to express protest against recent developments at Adjara TV.
“We have been reiterating for several months that there is an open attempt, an open storm aimed at changing the broadcaster’s editorial policy. People are being persecuted in various forms, blackmailed and dismissed from jobs; the broadcaster’s director and three members of its advisory council from Georgian Dream are involved in it,” the anchor of the main news program said.
4.03.2020 – Giorgi Kokhreidze, director of Adjara TV and Radio Company, presented Giorgi Abazadze as acting head of newsroom. Previously, the latter served as a weekend anchor of a news program and had no management experience. His homophobic and sexist statements have widely circulated on social media.
5.03.2020 – An alert headlined “Several Journalists Sacked Due to Political Pressure on Public Channel Adjara TV” was published on the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote protection of journalism and safety of journalists. The alert was published by The Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international watchdog organisation, following TI Georgia’s appeal.
6.03.2020 – Giorgi Kokhreidze temporarily suspended Teona Bakuridze from anchoring of the main news program. According to the order issued by Adjara TV’s director, Bakuridze prevented acting head of newsroom Giorgi Abazadze from performing his official duties; “she psychologically abused him, compelling him to file a resignation.”
Later, Nazibrola Kobuladze became a new anchor of the main news program. She moved to the broadcaster from Adjara Road Department’s PR Service; earlier, she served at TV 25.
10.03.2020 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir stated that he was worried about recent developments at Adjara TV, and “about reported management’s interference in its editorial policy.”
13.03.2020 – By order of the broadcaster’s director, Teona Bakuridze was fired from the TV channel. “Teona Bakuridze has grossly violated the labor contract and the broadcaster’s internal regulations,” indicated in the order.
17.03.2020 – A group of 33 organizations addressed the international organizations, calling on them to respond to “alarming processes” at Adjara TV.
23.03.2020 – Giorgi Kokhreidze made a decision to transfer journalist Teona Kharabadze for reporting to a non-existent bureau in Kutaisi. Kharabadze claims that Kokhreidze’s decision aimed at distancing her from the newsroom.
25.03.2020 – Journalists suspended the announced strike due to the coronavirus outbreak and the state of emergency imposed by the government.
15.04.2020 – The management adopted new regulations for the newsroom, according to which the Online Department of Adjara TV led by Sopo Zhgenti was stripped of the function to independently prepare news stories for the website. Nino Khazomia was appointed as the editor of online service. Zhgenti noted that the reorganization aimed at “getting rid” of specific individuals.
16.04.2020 – Vakho Khuzmiashvili was appointed as the new head of Adjara TV’s newsroom. He was the only candidate for the position.
21.04.2020 - Giorgi Kokhreidze, director of Adjara TV, temporarily suspended Teona Turmanidze from anchoring the channel’s prime newscast because of her Facebook posts. The order on her suspension reads that her posts aimed at “discrediting the broadcaster.” Later, she was suspended by management from anchoring and reporting for a term of one year. Turmanidze said that she was reassigned by the management to another job and will continue working at a radio program of the same channel.
27.04.2020 – The Public Defender examined the cases of alleged violation of labor rights of Shorena Glonti, Maia Merkviladze and Teona Bakuridze, and concluded that the said persons were dismissed or reassigned to another positions in violation of the Labor Code of Georgia and the internal regulations of Adjara TV. The Public Defender recommended Adjara TV’s director to annul the orders on the dismissal or reassignment of Shorena Glonti, Maia Merkviladze and Teona Bakuridze and to ensure the restoration of their labor rights.
3.05.2020 – About 20 broadcasters participated in the solidarity rally entiteled “Solidarity with the journalists of Adjara TV” and suspended their broadcast for a minute. On May 13, about 35 radio stations and online media outlets put the same caption on their profile photos in social networks. On May 21, local civil society organizations and other supporters of the idea of a public broadcaster also joined the rally. Imedi TV, Georgian Public Broadcaster and Maestro TV did not join the rally. Rustavi 2 TV joined the online media solidarity rally only.
11.05.2020 – Adjara TV’s director Giorgi Kokhreidze fired Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, host of a talk show “Hashtag”, and head of Alternative Trade Union of Adjara TV. Rekhviashvili said that he was dismissed for his Facebook posts deemed by the management as discrediting the TV channel. Since Rekhviashvili refused to change his stance, he was fired.
14.05.2020 – The Reporters Without Borders denounced “baseless dismissal” of Malkhaz Rekhviashvili from Adjara TV and called on the ruling party to stop political pressure on public TV.
29.05.2020 – Aleksandre Milorava, activist of public movement “I Love Batumi,” erected a tent outside the television premises and went on a hunger strike demanding Adjara TV director’s resignation.
3.06.2020 – Gia Kartsivadze, member of the advisory council of Adjara TV and Radio Company, called for launching impeachment procedures against the director. However, at least two votes are needed to launch impeachment procedures. Tamar Tsilosani, member of the advisory council from the opposition European Georgia party, said that she would raise the same demand on June 8, but she has not kept her promise so far.
The advisory council consists of five members – two members entered the board through the opposition’s quota and three – through the ruling party’s fraction quota.
10.06.2020 – A statement was released on behalf of the employees of the newsroom, according to which the broadcaster’s editorial policy has not changed and journalists continue to work in a free environment.
Shortly after the statement was released, several journalists from the newsroom distanced themselves from the statement, noting that they have been informed about the statement after it was published.
10.06.2020 – Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, who was fired from Adjara TV, filed a lawsuit to the court, demanding annulment of the decision on his dismissal, as well as reinstatement and downtime payment. This is the tenth lawsuit against Giorgi Kokhreidze. Part of journalists also applied to the Prosecutor’s Office, accusing Giorgi Kokhreidze of persecuting journalists and interfering with journalistic activities.
12.06.2020 – Aleksandre Milorava ended his hunger strike outside the Adjara TV premises after 15 days. His demands were not met.