Editorial Independence of Adjara TV Is At Risk
Recent statements made by the director of Adjara TV as well as planned personnel changes and disciplinary proceedings launched against employees are an indication of pressure and harassment exerted on critical journalists. The developments that have occurred at Adjara TV confirm our concern that the real purpose of all of the ongoing processes is an attempt by the government to gain full control over the editorial policy.
According to the staff of Adjara TV and Radio, the Director, Giorgi Kokhreidze, announced on February 13 that he plans to abolish the positions of deputy chiefs of departments. With the approval of three out of five members of the Advisory Council, the change would also affect the deputy head of the news service, Maia Merkviladze, who was critical of Kokhreidze. At the same time, disciplinary proceedings were launched against the head of the information service, Shorena Glonti. However, according to the TV staff, the director is calling on one of the anchors of “Hashtag”, Malkhaz Rekhviashvili, to resign because the latter is the chairperson of an alternative labor union at Adjara TV. Rekhviashvili is also critical of management.
It is noteworthy that in April 2019, the Advisory Council fired TV Director Natia Kapanadze. After a series of failed attempts, Giorgi Kokhreidze was elected as the new director six months later. The process of electing the new director has raised many questions among civil society and the TV staff that the process may have been orchestrated by the government. Kokhreidze expressed his discontent with the Adjara TV journalists on the very first day of his work. Soon thereafter he presented a reorganization plan, which was not well received by a part of the staff. They suspected that it was an attempt to get rid of undesired employees and to change the editorial policy. At the same time, then deputy Director, Natia Zoidze, repeatedly stated that she was being pressured by the director to digress from the editorial policy. The terms of her labor contract were later amended and she left the television in protest. The international organization Reporters Without Borders assessed Zoidze's departure as "political pressure".
We call on the director of Adjara TV and the Advisory Council (especially those members who were selected through the quota of the ruling party Georgian Dream) to stop the persecution of employees that are critical of the management; to adopt all decisions through discussion and broad consensus so as not to deepen further the mistrust between management and staff, and to address the questions of the public concerning the independence of the TV station.
Transparency International Georgia once again expresses its solidarity with the employees of Adjara TV that are fighting for their professional rights. We are ready, if necessary, to protect their rights and provide legal assistance.