The election of Vasil Maghlaperidze points to increasing of political influence on the Public Broadcaster
On January 6, the Board of Trustees of the Public Broadcaster elected Vasil Maghlaperidze as the broadcaster’s Director-General. The election of a new director was made necessary after the former director, Giorgi Baratashvili, resigned from this position for unclear reasons.
Five candidates took part in the job competition for this position, including Tinatin Berdzenishvili, head of the Public Broadcaster’s Media and Communications Unit; Nino Zautashvili, anchor of the program Realuri Sivrtse (Real Space); and Natia Kuprashvili, head of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters. The first vote failed to produce the winner. In the second vote, in which Vasil Maghlaperidze and Tinatin Berdzenishvili took part, Mr. Maghlaperidze received 6 votes and became the director, whereas he had only received 4 votes in the first voting.
Vasil Maghlaperidze worked as the general producer of “2030”, a program on GDS TV, which is owned by the family of Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Prime Minister of Georgia. At various times, he has been the deputy director of TV9 TV station, also owned by the Ivanishvilis; editor-in-chief of Kalmasoba magazine; and founder, editor, and main consultant of the Kavkasioni newspaper. Under the UNM government, Mr. Maghlaperidze held the position of governor and was an MP in parliaments of two convocations.
Despite the fact that the management of the Public Broadcaster had announced and partially started implementing concrete reforms in the broadcaster, after the parliamentary elections, the broadcaster’s director unexpectedly resigned from his position. Mr. Baratashvili, like the other directors of the Public Broadcaster, didn’t complete his term. The election of the new Director-General, who is known as a member of the circle of people close to former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and is associated with all the TV projects launched by Mr. Ivanishvili, makes us think that he will presumably pursue a policy in the broadcaster that is acceptable for the government. At the same time, individual members of the broadcaster’s Board of Trustees have expressed doubts about possible existence of political motives in the process. At this point, there is no concrete evidence proving that members of the Board of Trustees were subjected to pressure, although the fact that some of them suddenly changed their position and elected a candidate who had not been a favorite during the competition raises certain questions about political impartiality of the majority of the Board members.
The Board of the Public Broadcaster has obviously failed to elect a politically neutral person as the broadcaster’s director, which is going to reflect negatively on the broadcaster’s reputation and might hinder the reform that is underway in the channel, including the introduction of a new organizational structure and staffing policy. Allowing all this to happen is going to hinder the channel’s further development once again. We call upon the broadcaster’s Board of Trustees and all of its members to provide a clear explanation of their decision to elect a politically affiliated candidate as the broadcaster’s director, based on the principle of accountability before the public, and to dispel doubts about possible political pressure on the Board members or about political interests involved in the process with relevant arguments.
The new director didn’t rule out the possibility of making staff changes in the Public Broadcaster. We believe that it is inadmissible to make staffing decisions, to interfere with the editorial independence of the journalists, producers and editors working at the broadcaster, and to infringe on their rights in any manner. Any such steps might cause an irrecoverable damage to the public’s already fragile trust in the broadcaster.
TI Georgia is going to actively observe the processes underway in the Public Broadcaster and, if necessary, is ready to protect the rights of journalists and employees of the channel.