In December 2012 employees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) formed an initiative group due to crisis situation created in the organization. They proposed both to Parliament and the GPB Board of Trustees their own vision of overcoming the crisis. What problems do they see in the GPB and what can be the solution? How do they assess the latest events taking place in the broadcaster? – These and other questions have been asked by Media.ge to a member of the GPB initiative group, Second Channel General Producer Dodo Shonava.
- When and how was the initiative group formed?
The group started existence 21 December, when Gia Chanturia resigned from post. Several people gathered and we said that there was crisis here. Chanturia himself also agreed to it. We met with the Board of Trustees and told them not to select Director yet; we said it would be better to form Crisis Management Group in order to overcome the given crisis.
We met with Levan Gakheladze and Mamuka Pachuashvili. They replied – What do you want? You want us to leave? We said – No, we want us all together to work for overcoming the crisis. Meeting with the Board ended without any result.
After we addressed Parliament and notified it about the crisis; we explained that we doubted that crisis would be overcome as result of new competition. We requested Parliament to ask for unscheduled report from the Management of the Board of Trustees as one of the “authors” of the crisis is the Board itself. When the Board signs more than 1% of expenses it is responsible for extensive financial expenses. How can it be that the given issue is not being decided upon and Directors are being changed all the time. There was no reaction from Parliament.
After, the new Director started communicating with us. We started searching for solutions to the crisis together, but soon he was also dismissed due to absolutely senseless reasons. There is a very serious crisis in the GPB now. The Acting Director does not and cannot make any decisions so whatever is happening now is the responsibility of the Board. Initiative Group of the Broadcaster started cooperation with the authors of the amendments to the Law on Broadcasting as we think that we must also follow the legal direction. We do not plan to annul the group after the Director will return as we believe that all those employees must participate in the work of the GPB who think it necessary.
- What power and influence does the initiative group have?
Initiative group consists of five members; although 550 employees of the GPB have signed the letter signed the letter sent to Parliament and the letter declaring distrust to the Board of Trustees. We have no legal power. Sometimes moral power is far stronger than written laws. When 550 employees declare distrust to the Board that manages the television, when majority of staff believes that the Board does not fulfill its obligations correctly, when it dismissed the new Director without any logical reason, whom it selected itself two months before, the illegitimacy of the Board is out of doubt. I believe the Director was fired due to political motives.
- Do you think Khatuna Berdzenishvili being Head of News Service was also reasoned by political motives?
We, members of the initiative group, sent a letter to the Acting Director General – we wanted a one-hour talk-show in order to discuss situation created in the broadcaster and about its future. He replied that yes, it is possible but we should not violate any provisions of the Statute and should not speak about distrust to the broadcaster and so on. Meanwhile, Khatuna Berdzenishvili has used 10 minutes of live air of the central newscast for speaking about the problems. She should have been fired even if she had spoken like this for 10 or 30 seconds, as she violated all the internal regulations and rules. After this she addressed the Board of Trustees. Board met with her and during an hour listened to how Berdzenishvili insulted the Director General and the whole staff of the broadcaster. People fired before have also appealed for meeting with the Board, but it has refused. Does not it create an objective doubt that this lady was especially important for it?
If it could have, the Board would have recreated her to her position, but it could not; instead the Board punished the Director General for the fact that he proposed another position to her and did not fire her. Here we can see intercommunication, conflict of interests, political motivation, whatever you call it. How can we speak about the independence of the Board of Trustees after all this? I believe the Board must resign, but I doubt that it will do so.
- If we speak in more detail, what problems does the initiative group see in the GPB?
There are many problems in the Broadcaster that have been accumulating for many years. That is why the initiative group has initiated the issue of responsibility of the Board. It is in their responsibilities to supervise execution of priorities and responsibility for correct spending of funding. Public confidence in the GPB is low. This is also a fact and a problem as in its essence the Public Broadcaster is just the media outlet that must reflect public interests, must answer all the questions and must be accountable to its financer, fourth branch of government – the public.
9 years have passed since the television has been reformed into public broadcaster. There has always been anxiety during all this time. The broadcaster served not public interests, but interests of some political forces. The channel did not reflect problems of the society and did not propose answers to problematic questions. There have always been critics within the broadcaster – towards the news policy, incorrect programming and setting of priorities. What was being done on the channel was not interesting, popular and modern for the population.
- What do you mean by modern and popular?
I mean for example selection of topics, their extension, visuals of talk-shows, content. Main thing is that they did not talk about those social issues which were important; there were no debates and investigative journalism. Kvesitadze’s and Paichadze’s shows are not debates. Kvesitadze’s show also was not trustful due to different reasons despite the fact that several of her programs were quite tough it was not in the form of classic debates. She lacks neutrality of journalist and debates between two sides.
Journalist must understand the topic to such extent that he must be able to mediate, not to take support of any of the sides. Such a program just once a week is not enough. Level of trust to a channel is also reasoned by transparency of all the processes – we must be neutral; there must be no suspicion about any kind of commercial or political influence, we must correctly understand the heartbeat of processes going on in the society. The channel did not satisfy these criteria.
- How must the information policy of the channel be like?
We should not take by all means BBC as an example. There is such strong democracy there that we must go a long way before we become such strong television. An example for us can be Slovakia, Slovenia, and Czech Republic. They do not make accent on newscasts; they are not scandal-oriented. They provide to the public such information that is necessary for the society as weather forecast, which helps people in their orientation. When some emergency event takes place it should not be concealed and it must be analyzed. Air-time must be given to educational programs, such programs that are necessary for minorities on one hand but are also necessary for the majority in order to learn more about minorities, as they are right beside the majority and majority must be more tolerant to them.
There must be no marginalized topics; all the topics must be publicly discussed. This is the kind of television we must have in Georgia. Newscasts must of digest character during all day long. Block of the day on important topics with competent discussion must answer main questions in the evening. This must happen in the form of debates; all the sides must be represented, including opposition; without it progress does not take place.
- How do you see the process of reformation of the GPB into such television?
Board of Trustees must be formed with the people who have certain level of competence and are trusted by the public. They must understand the processes underway in the television correctly and must be capable to set right directions for developing the television. Board must include – a lawyer, a financial specialist, media-expert – this means they must be able to manage the television. Public Boards considered by the Law must be strengthened. Boards which will include individuals from all structured groups of the society; they will oversight setting of priorities and will participate in their implementation. These kinds of Boards have probably existed before but more formally; they have not influenced work of the GPB. They must also have financial interest as it will be necessary for their activation. To the initiators of the amendments to the Law on Broadcasting we proposed to consider funding of such Boards and as I know they have considered this proposal.
- Do you agree to the amendments to the Law on Broadcasting according to which the Board of Trustees must consist of 3 representatives of governing party, 3 minority opposition representatives, 2 Public Defender representatives and one representative of Adjara Television?
We believe that there should not be two Trustees nominated by the Ombudsman. What is the point? We agree to the opinion of Parliamentary minority that the Board must include a representative of the staff of the Public Broadcaster. This will increase the level of independence of the Board of Trustees and the staff will be better protected. I believe at least one Trustee must a representative of the GPB staff.
- Why do you believe it is necessary?
We are motivated for this television to be good. People working for it must have the feeling of stability; they must see themselves here in future; they must work for rating; they should want to be independent and must be free from any kind of influence. Considering this the candidates nominated by the staff will be worthy, they will answer these criteria and will in future also be oriented at making the television the best, for it to be free from any political or commercial influence. I believe influence on the television is the mine that will explode against all the governments that attempt for such influence.
- Until now how free has the GPB been free from such influence?
It is clear, it was not.
- And government exploded on it?
Finally it did. This has become one of the important factors for the failure of the previous government. When people see that the television that they finance does not reflect the reality they become quite critical to the government.
- If the GPB staff selects candidates for Board membership would it create risk of lobbying of interests of certain groups inside the broadcaster?
There will probably be publicly known criteria that Board membership candidates will have to satisfy. Everyone will be able to see to what extend candidates satisfy these criteria. I believe those candidates must be capable to evaluate processes underway in the television and to make coinciding conclusions.
- You mentioned that the problems you are speaking about now have been there during 9 years. Why did you decide to speak about them now?
I left this television in 2006. This was when Tamar Kintsurashvili, former member of the Board was appointed to the post of Director General. She fired many of such people who were trained by American journalists and BBC specialists. I told the Board that it was an incorrect approach and that this way we would not have the broadcaster we wanted to see. After this they terminated my contract and fired me. The broadcaster was under influence of the Freedom Institute. In 2009 I was appointed to the post of Director of the Second Channel. Staff meetings were called very rarely but I always criticized the information policy; I believed it incorrect that it was scandal-oriented, did not reflect the reality and many events important to the public at that time were being concealed. This means I cannot say that I started talking about this just now.
- What reasoned the activation of initiative group members and of the broadcaster staff?
Elections of 1 October. We had a feeling that the reality has changed in the country. Now we have the moment that the given television can become really independent. Our rallies are also a prevention for the government that we do not want any kind of influence; we want influence and pressure only from the public, in order to be the kind of television the public wants. This is not a protest against the past; this is a declaration into future, present; that we want the kind of Board of Trustees which will not interfere with the management, will be free. We want the kind of management that knows television, execution of priorities, knows what is programming, correct information policy and is creative. Talented people work here but when you have one-month labor contract it is hard to express yourself fully and think in perspective as you are under permanent pressure that tomorrow you will not be here anymore. Meanwhile television is a continuous process. They must have the felling of stability in order to use their talent for the cause. When you have fear that you may lose your job and your family will have no food you cannot think about being creative.
I hope that after the new legislation will be adopted this will be a nonsense. All the employees of the Second Channel have one-month labor contracts. Only during one year the contracts were six-month, now it is again one-month. This is the best opportunity to influence the staff. Only those working for the newscast have 8-month contracts. They say that it is because of the reorganization. Can there be reorganization during 9 years? I believe it is necessary to have a program made by media-critic in order for us to criticize programs made by us. It is also true that taste of viewers has also been defected; it is hard to return TV-taste to them. Mass-culture rules the televisions. Our objective is to make elite programs; we must work for improving the taste of viewers. We must return viewers to the channel. In total we have several goals – correct selection of the Board of Trustees, strengthening of public boards, change of management to collegial supervision and creation of adequate conditions for worthy people.
- And the last question. What are the future plans of the initiative group of the broadcaster?
We will address Parliament and ask – is not the support from 550 people not enough for holding the Board responsible when there is force majeaure situation? If Court decides to restore Baratashvili to his post and counts the decision on his dismissal made by the Board unfair, how can they remain on their positions? If this happens their legitimation will be finished. We are forming Trade Unions; in its State we included not only social protection of employees but also oversight of creative work and programming. We will sign a collective agreement with Director General that we protect interests of our members and staff members. When we will have the Director General we will ask him to create a collegial management body in order to avoid unilateral management in future. There are 56 founders of the Trade Union and 200 members.
Solidarity is a deficit in media, especially in TV-media. I want for the GPB Trade Union to become an example for other televisions. It will be a Union that will also have contacts abroad.