Statement of NGOs on the Ongoing Staff Changes in Rustavi 2 TV
We, the undersigned organizations, want to express our concern about the staff changes in Rustavi 2 TV that were announced and carried out by its new owner. Paata Salia, the new General-Director of Rustavi 2 TV, dismissed Nodar Meladze, the Head of TV's News Department, and TV anchor Nanuka Zhorzholiani. Moreover, Eka Kvesitadze, Giorgi Gabunia and Giorgi Laperashvili, the Deputy General-Director, will be fired as soon as they return from vacation.
Speaking today at an emergency press-conference, the General-Director stated that he is planning to litigate against Giorgi Gabunia, Giorgi Laperashvili and Nodar Meladze for their role in signing in 2015 a “sham contract” with the advertising company Intermedia Plus, through which they allegedly gained a financial benefit. According to Salia, he cannot imagine having to litigate against individuals who are employed as high-ranking staff in the company, so he has to terminate their employment. Meanwhile, Salia noted that the basis for the dismissal of Nanuka Zhorzholiani were the statements she had made against the TV company. As for Eka Kvesitadze, Salia stated that she was fired for her participation in the establishment of a new TV channel.
It is noteworthy to mention the statement made by Nodar Meladze, according to which he was contacted through a middleman with a message from Bidzina Ivanishvili which requested support in changing the editorial policy of Rustavi 2. According to Meladze, him turning down the request was the basis for his dismissal. Nanuka Zhorzholiani’s dismissal took her by surprise. According to Zhorzholiani, Salia discussed with her the plans for the upcoming season the day prior to her dismissal. She notes that the General-Director’s decision to fire her is politically motivated.
It is known that the TV’s new management hasn’t even paid Nodar Meladze and Nanuka Zhorzholiani their salaries, which can be considered as an attempt at indirect intimidation.
Local and international organizations have numerously called on the new management of Rustavi 2 TV to avoid interfering in the channel’s critical editorial policy. The management, in turn, promised that the critical editorial policy would be preserved.
In spite of this, in a few weeks the new management made unsubstantiated decisions related to the dismissal of Nodar Meladze, the Head of TV's News Department and the host of one of the most popular investigative TV program, TV anchors Eka Kvesitadze and Giorgi Gabunia, and Giorgi Laperashvili, the Deputy General-Director. Nanuka Zhorzholiani, the host of one of the most popular entertainment TV programs, was also dismissed from work.
The new management of Rustavi 2 TV has recently made repeated statements about the dire financial situation of the channel, which has contributed to the fostering of an unsustainable environment for the company and journalists. On the other hand, the new management decided to fire TV anchors that are highly popular in the Georgian media landscape. This further intensifies suspicions about the political motivations of the actions of the new management. Moreover, the critical editorial policy of Rustavi 2 might have served as an additional reason for the management to make such an abrupt decision.
Due to the aforementioned circumstances, it is beyond doubt that the dismissal of leading journalists at Rustavi 2 on vague grounds is actually a change of the editorial policy of the channel.
It is clear that the developments around Rustavi 2 have a negative effect on the media environment in Georgia and that it will also negatively impact the freedom of the press, as well as the democratic development of the country.
Transparency International Georgia
Georgian Democracy Initiative
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy
Society and Banks
Media Development Foundation
The Economic Policy Research Center
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information
Center for Research Journalism and Economic Analysis
Georgia’s Reforms Associates
Atlantic Council of Georgia
European Initiative - Liberal Academy Tbilisi