GEO

The new Board of the Ajarian Public Broadcaster – did nepotism trump merits?

13 November, 2013

In a controversial move, the Supreme Council of Ajara last week finalized the appointment of members of the Ajarian Public Broadcaster’s Board of trustees. All five members were appointed by members of the Georgian Dream factions – in violation of the spirit of the law, which through a quota regime sought to give the opposition the opportunity to appoint two members for the newly established Ajarian Public Broadcaster.

The Supreme Council elected the five trustees in two rounds: In a first vote, only the three candidates proposed by the Georgian Dream factions’ quota received the necessary votes, those proposed by the opposition United National Movement did not. Then, the Council voted again to elect the remaining two members, and again only the candidates nominated by the Georgian Dream received the necessary votes.

The Law on Broadcasting states that in case a candidate fails to gather enough votes, factions and independent members of the Council are allowed to nominate new candidates. The law does not specify which factions are allowed to nominate candidates for the second voting and it might be understood that all are free to do so. The law also doesn’t recognize quotas by majority and minority, and only allows factions and independent members of the Council to nominate Board member candidates.

The Supreme Council interpreted the procedures regarding the Board's appointment in a way that allowed the Georgian Dream to select all Board members – Members of Parliament, including of the Georgian Dream coalition, have called this process illegal. What is clear is that the Council's move was not in line with the spirit of the legal amendments passed in July, which put an end to Ajara TV’s illegal existence and transformed it to a public broadcaster, which is supposed to have a politically independent and pluralistic Board overseeing its activities.

Board members are financially compensated, details on their remuneration have not been published yet. By law, the funds allocated to the whole Board are limited to 1 per cent of the broadcaster’s total budget, which would amount to approximately GEL 60,000 to GEL 70,000 in 2014. The chairperson of the Ajarian Public Broadcaster will also serve as a Board member of the Georgian Public Broadcaster from next year.

The selected members of the Board:

The following five members were elected to serve on the Board: Olga Jgenti, Vakhtang Glonti, Zaza Khalvashi (he was elected as a chairman of the Board), Giorgi Iremadze and Rusudan (Nata) Imedaishvili.

Vakhtang Glonti, a poet, served in the Batumi Sakrebulo (city council) between 2006 and 2010 as a United National Movement representative and headed its commission on Education, Culture, Tourism and Sport. He continues to hold a political role as an advisor to the Chairman of the Sakrebulo. His nephew Sulkhan Glonti is the Chairman of Georgian Dream – Free Democrats Faction in the Supreme Council. Along with other writers, Vakhtang Glonti has voiced his protest against the construction of a new mosque in Batumi. Glonti recently released a pointed poem in which he criticised “boys and girls” working for non-governmental organizations of lacking patriotism.

Nata Imedaishvili, a journalist and former head of the news service of Ajara TV and Radio (2004 to 2005), currently works as the Ajara correspondent for Radio Liberty. Media.ge has reported that this position might result in a conflict of interest – the Georgian Law on Broadcasting does not allow employees of the public broadcaster to hold a paid position at another broadcaster. However, Radio Liberty does not hold a broadcasting license and is not regarded as a broadcaster by law, it only acts as a content producer that are aired by various private radio stations. Its shows can also be received in Ajara, through the nationwide radio Imedi. Imedaishvili has said that she does not see a conflict of interest between her two positions.

Imedaishvili’s husband Koba Chkheidze heads the Department of Socio-Economic Analysis of the Government of Ajara and is the head of the Batumi branch of the Free Democrats (member of the Georgian Dream coalition). Imedaishvili has previously stated that her husband’s involvement in politics posed a conflict of interest, and so she did not cover elections he participated in.

In November 2012, after the parliamentary elections, was seen as a potential candidate to head Ajara TV. Imedashvili has stressed the importance of civil journalism in the future work of the channel.

Giorgi Iremadze is the pro-rector of Batumi St. John Spiritual Academy. He has spoken of the importance of professionalism and about plans to prepare programs on number of topics, including politics, social issues, sport, the environment, culture and religion. He has said that Ajara TV should broadcast 24 hours a day and should dedicate significant time on religious programs.

Olga (Oliko) Jgenti holds a phd in Art History, is a lecturer at Batumi Art Teaching University and has directed and produced several documentaries. She worked as a journalist on the State Broadcaster’s Channel 2 in 1990s and more recently oversaw the production of documentaries at the the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Russian language channel PIK. Jgenti is the Chairwoman of the Board of Knut Hamsun Association in Caucasus, an organization named after the Norwegian Nobel Prize winning writer, and of Association Patria.  

Zaza Khalvashi, is a movie director and philologist who has held various mid-level positions in Ajarian government in the past. Khalvashi owns Batumi Independent Film Studio, the movie production company LTD Goragelis and is a founder of the non-profit organization Movie Development Fund.

Until recently, he served as the director of the Batumi Drama Theater. Khalvashi headed Ajara TV and Radio until 2005 and resigned after staff accused him of censorship. One of his critics at the time was Nata Imedaishvili, then the head of the news service – the two now have to work together on the Board. Khalvashi has said that youth and children’s programs should become a focus for the broadcaster.

The Board now needs to show that it is committed to a public service mission and committed to developing the broadcaster, while acting independently from partisan interests.

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Author: Diana Chachua, Ana Dabrundashvili
Ajara, GMedia