Who owns regional media: TI Georgia releases a new report
TI Georgia’s new report looks at the ownership, operations and financing of local media outlets, which in many cities, towns and communities across the country play an important role in communicating and shaping local discussions and events. Their role will further increase as a result of the recent local self-governance reform which introduced direct election of mayors in 12 cities in the June 2014 elections.
This report is a second part of TI Georgia’s large scale research Who Owns Georgia’s Media? New research seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the power networks and corporate relationships that affect regional media outlets. The audience should be able to understand who owns the media and which other businesses are linked to a particular outlet. Having this understanding is an important aspect of media literacy.
Major findings of the report:
Ownership of Georgian regional media outlets is rather transparent. We did not find any cases where the identity of media owners is hidden behind offshore entities.
There are few large businessmen who have shares in the local Georgian media market. For many regional media owners, a media company is their only business asset:
-- 10% of Trialeti, a Gori-based TV channel belongs to LTD Channel Nine. 20% of LTD Channel Nine is owned by Kakha Kobiashvili (through LTD Aktsepti), a relative of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Kobiashvili is the legal representative of nine different offshore companies that hold assets in Georgia.There are strong indications that these companies are controlled by Ivanishvili family.
-- Khashuri TV company Dia belongs to Guram Gogoladze, who among other assets owns a swimming pool in Rustavi.
-- 51% of Independent TV Company Guria is owned by the son of former MP Vano Chkhartishvili. The family owns several companies, including the ones that are mentioned in a dispute between Chkhartishvili and Patarkatsishvili families.
-- 15% of Kvemo Kartli TV Company is owned by Merab Tkeshelashvili, who, among other assets owns 7.2% of Jockey Club, the company in control of Tbilisi Ipodrom.
Politically active individuals do not directly or indirectly own, finance or control local media outlets. However, several owners of regional media outlets had links with the United National Movement and local municipalities prior to the 2012 parliamentary elections.
-- Son of the owner of Zugdidi TV company Odishi Emma Grigolia Aleksandre Kobalia was Gamgebeli of Zugdidi municipality (as a member of the United National Movement)and resigned a few months after the 2012 parliamentary elections.
-- Following media owners are former public officials: Badri Nanetashvili, owners of 20% of Trialeti (Deputy Governor of Shida Kartli), Roland Mgaloblishvili (Member of the Parliament) and Merab Tkeshelashvili (Rustavi Mayor) - owners of Kvemo Kartli TV and Radio Company and Mamuka Todua (Deputy Governor of Samegrelo Zemo Svaneti), owner of Poti TV Company Ninth Wave.
-- 40% of Telavi-based TV company Tanamgzavri is owned by Davit Mania. Mania also acts as the director of Gruppo Via and M.D. Group. Both companies are fully owned by a UNM member of the Parliament Levan Kardava. Levan Kardava’s wife Maka Mania and Davit Mania are registered on the same address in Sokhumi, which is a strong indication that they are siblings.
-- Until 2011, Channel 9 of Akhaltsikhe was owned by Zurab Chilingarashvili (40%), a UNM majoritarian MP.
Financial sustainability remains a key problem for regional media outlets. Local TV stations accounted for approximately 4% of all television revenues last year, while the five large local radio stations (Hereti, Dzveli Kalaki, Imeri, Atinnati and Harmonia) accumulated around 3% of all radio revenues in 2013. Due to financial challenges local media outlets are not able to employ a large number of journalists and in most cases editorial staff is composed of 8 individuals on average.
In 2014 the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC) abolished the licenses of three local broadcasters – Samegrelo, TV5 and Spektri for suspension of broadcasting for more than three months. Two regional newspapers – the Armenian edition of Samkhretis Karibche and Kartlis Khma closed down in recent months due to a lack of financing.
The level of market concentration in the regions is not a matter of concern at the moment. Several large regional broadcasters, Rioni, Odishi and Trialeti, operate their own radio stations. Khashuri based TV company Dia runs a local cable provider company with around 800 subscribers. Poti-based TV station Metskhre Talga owns a majority of shares in a local radio – radio Harmonia. Most of the local newspapers also run online portals.