What is Going on at Adjara TV?
The Supreme Council of Adjara has to vote for the candidates that have been selected by the factions and independent MPs for the four vacant positions of the Council of the Advisory Board of Adjara TV and Radio. The process of selecting and nominating candidates for the Advisory Board, as the recent developments around the TV, has been contentious and has reinforced suspicions that the government is trying to find a way to influence the editorial policy of the broadcaster.
Controversial Impeachment of the Director
The developments around Adjara TV have been sharply criticized by the civil society and international organizations, especially since the position of the director of Adjara TV and Radio has been made vacant following the Council of the Advisory Board's vote of no confidence in the former director, Natia Kapanadze, who has appealed the decision to the court.
The standing Advisory Board, in spite of three attempts, has failed to elect a new director, while the fourth contest was suspended by a decision of the court. Therefore, the new composition of the Advisory Board will have to elect the director of the broadcaster, as four out of five members of the current board will have their mandates expired. The drawn-out process of electing the director has raised suspicion among journalists of the broadcaster and the non-governmental sector that the developments are done in order to change the editorial policy of media outlets.
Controversial Process of Selecting and Nominating Candidates for the Advisory Board
According to the Law on Broadcasting, the Selection Committee for the Advisory Board was established by the order of Davit Gabaidze, the Chairperson of the Supreme Council of Adjara. The United National Movement faction has accused Gabaidze of violating the rules of procedure, namely for unilaterally defining the composition of the committee. The faction appealed to the Batumi City Court and demanded the termination of the order and the suspension of the work of the commission, but the judge has not upheld the appeal.
The process of nominating candidates by factions and independent MPs has become controversial. The existing provision in the legislation provides a rationale for different interpretations among stakeholders. Four candidates have been nominated so far, but the United National Movement has not yet used its own quota. If this opposition faction uses the right guaranteed by the law to nominate a candidate, there will be five people nominated for four vacant positions.
Representatives of the opposition have also complained that Davit Gabaidze had violated an agreement with the United National Movement which stipulated that the opposition faction would have the opportunity to interview the selected candidates. The ruling party, however, has scheduled a session for the approval of the new members of the Advisory Board without conducting interviews.
Transparency International Georgia has analyzed the biographies of the four candidates running for the Council of the Advisory Board, which are to be elected by the Supreme Council.
Soso Sturua, a candidate from the Faction “Georgian Dream – Adjara”, was the director of Adjara TV and Radio in 2013-2016. In November 2013, a number of journalists at the channel accused him of intimidating the news department and its leadership. Back then, Sturua offered Irina Kurua, the head of the TV news department, to move to the position of the head of the radio news department. Irina Kurua and a number of staff members stated that this decision by the director served to disrupt the critical editorial policy of the news department and, therefore, to also weaken the news editorials. Two employees then left the television, citing disagreement with the information policy of Adjara TV.
According to Irina Kurua, Soso Sturua was a frequent target of intimidation from government officials during his tenure as director: “I have witnessed intimidation from the government, I have seen Mr. Soso Sturua in a bad state when he was asked to maintain a favorable narrative of the government on the news. I have seen a person under immense distress ... I do not want to have a repeat of that situation as it was very difficult under Soso Sturua's leadership on Adjara TV and Radio."
"Transparency International - Georgia" has published a special report on the challenges and unresolved issues during the period when Soso Sturua was director. This report covered issues such as the fair distribution of salaries, the confrontational relationship between the Advisory Board and the director, gaps in the planning and management of the budget, as well as in procurement processes.
According to his biography, Sturua held various positions at the Public Broadcaster’s First Channel and Adjara's Department of Television and Radio between 2004 and 2013. Sturua is currently the Deputy Director of the Adjara Museum.
Tamila Dolidze is a candidate from the Faction “Georgian Dream – Majoritarians”. She is the cousin of the wife of Ilia Verdzadze, the chairperson of this faction. Moreover, the sister of Tamila Dolidze is a member of the Khelvachauri Sakrebulo from the Georgian Dream.
Tamila Dolidze was one of the 103 employees of Adjara Television that released a statement against then-director Natia Kapanadze. This happened in parallel to the impeachment procedures initiated against Natia Kapanadze by two members of the Advisory Board.
Information released in 2013 related to Tamila Dolidze is found in the archives. At this time, Adjara TV was a sub-department of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. In the article, producer of the Adjara Radio news department, Tamila Dolidze, admits that the story prepared by the journalist regarding Adjara TV status was amended after a call from the press service of the Supreme Council. “The text written by the journalist was inappropriate, they called us from the press office and asked us why there was a biased approach. As a civil servant, I listened to the text and corrected it, but I did not correct it, I expanded it ... ”- explained Tamila Dolidze.
From 1990 to 2013, Tamila Dolidze worked as a newsreader, TV reporter, leading correspondent, editor and producer at the Adjara TV and Radio department. Today she is the deputy head of Adjara TV and Radio news department, working on radio-related matters.
Diana Vashakmadze was nominated by Giorgi Tsintskiladze, who is an independent MP and member of the “Nino Burjanadze-Democratic Movement”. She also wanted to run for the Advisory Board in 2018, but the Georgian Dream did not support her candidacy (the vacancy was announced through the quota of the Georgian Dream).
Vashakmadze has been the head of the Georgian Professional Development Center since 2014. She has also served as the chief public relations specialist for the Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation. In 2004-2007, she was the head of public relations at the Adjara Government and later at the Batumi Sea Port.
Tamar Tsilosani was nominated by independent MP Petre Zambakhidze, who is a member of European Georgia. She has held various positions at the Supreme Council of Adjara throughout the years. In 2014-2019, she was the assistant to the chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Supreme Council of Adjara. Since 2016, the committee has been chaired by Tsotne Ananidze, who is a member of the ruling party.