Ninth Channel has created an international Board of Advisors four members of which are four foreigners with high authority in journalistic circle: Les Gelb - President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations; New York Times international correspondent and editorial page editor; Lee Hamilton - former member of the United States House of Representatives and currently a member of the U.S.; Former President of Woodrow Wilson center; Larry King – Larry King Show presenter and philanthropist; Robert Ménard - one of the founders and the former secretary-general of the Paris-based international NGO Reporters Sans Frontières.
Menard has been in Georgia for three days already. What types of meetings he has had; how will the Board of Advisors protect editorial independence of the TV-Company and what is the main problem of the 9th Channel – these are the issues that Media.ge spoke with Robert Menard about. Interview was recorded in the 9th Channel office. Interview was attended by the 9th Channel Director General Kakha Bekauri and his deputy Irina Tevdorashvili.
- Mr. Menard, who proposed you membership in the Board of Advisors of the 9th Channel and what will be your duties?
- It was Kakha Bekauri’s idea. He asked me and several other persons to conduct two functions – to work with media problems existing in Georgia and to protect editorial independence of the 9th Channel.
We have information that 30 thousand satellite antennas are under lien. Some political authorities do not want to answer questions from journalists; part of reporters is oppressed. If I refer to the classification of our organization – Reporters Sans Frontiers – Georgia will not even be among 170 countries by means of freedom of speech. There’s a newly adopted law on Must Carry principle, which will stop after the elections. This means that media can be free only during pre-election period and after you go back to previous period.
This will be the first direction of work for us, which will help not only the 9th Channel but all other broadcasters.
- Can you be more specific on how you plan to work in the given direction?
The first person of Georgia spends phenomenal energy for creating international image. When Georgia’s lobbyists found out I was coming to Georgia they called me and described the 9th Channel as anti-Semite, racist monster.
For 25 years I was badly advertising those people who were acting wrong. In relation to press I know that President Saakashvili is doing wrong. It is not necessary to be his supporter, or be against him in order to understand this. It is a fact that the regime is directed at being authoritative and this influences journalists.
Our function will be being an opposite way of advertisement agency, which means we will not do what they are doing here; when they repair just the facades of buildings and nothing changes in the inside. Our goal is to see what is behind the facades and speak out about it. This will be in favor of all journalists.
Our Board will monitor programs and consult the channel management. Board members are not friends with each other; do not know well the channel management and journalists. That is why when there will be some problem we will notify the management and those responsible.
That was the reason why they asked me to come here; to protect the quality in the television owned by a person having political ambitions.
- How do you plan to achieve these goals?
I will be visiting here once every three weeks. I will be meeting channel representatives, other people. I will have them to translate programs and will listen to them. I will regularly share my opinion with the channel management. Elections are coming. Radicalization takes place in all countries at such time; everyone chooses their own camp. They ask opinion to us, people who are not involved in this story, which is very good.
- Will you be the only one so active, or will other members of the Board also come here so frequently?
I hope I will not be the only one, although I cannot speak for others, for example Larry King.
- Can you tell us what is your commission and who is paying it?
The TV-Company covers all the expenses for the Board members. The commission is as usual for all those who work in such situations.
- You have been in Georgia for three days already. What type of visit have you had?
I met with representatives of local TV-Companies, international organizations, Public Broadcaster and Rustavi 2 management and persons affiliated with the government. Meetings were aimed at getting information about Georgian media environment. I was at the Georgian Dream action in Kakheti in order to see how journalists work here. I watch everyone and form my opinion.
- And what is your opinion?
It is most evident that except of those who are affiliated with government everyone else is critical to them. International organizations that have been very close to Mikheil Saakashvili, have changed their opinion.
Many positive things have also happened in the country. We are not so foolish to compare Georgian with China.
I have a feeling that Saakashvili knows how media helped him to come into power and considering this he realizes how dangerous media can be for him. That is why he has decided not to trust it any more.
- You have probably already seen the 9th Channel programs. What is your impression; what is the main problem of the channel?
The main problem is that the channel makes accent on politics. This creates sense that we are permanently thinking about politics.
It is also important for them to be careful in such polarized situation when one power does not want to express opinion on the channel that it believes to be an enemy. They must find the way to provide their viewers with opinions of such politicians.
The third problem is separation of facts and opinions. When they permanently attack us as journalists we may get tired of it. We must be careful not to show it on air.
- Do you think it is a problem for the channel that leader of main opposition coalition is the owner of the broadcaster?
That is exactly the problem and that is why they approached us. Managers of the channel are smart enough to understand very well that it is the main challenge.
They told me this problem exists and we cannot act as if it is not there. We will create the structure that will monitor and study the given problem.
- Did you already notice this problem? Have you detected Bidzina Ivanishvili’s factor in the programs?
I did not see many programs, but from what I have seen I have not noticed Ivanishvili’s praising. The channel criticizes the government and President. Function of journalists is exactly criticizing government and the channel fulfills the given function. This is the television that is in service of its owner.
- How would you explain the lack of balance in covering different political parties?
It is really necessary for the government authorities to come to the channel and to express their opinions. They often say in reports that they have asked to government to comment, but have been refused. I cannot understand how they refuse to answer questions from journalists?!
It is Saakashvili’s problem that he does not like the 9th Channel, but as the Head of State he has no right not to answer journalists’ questions. This is the difference between the real and false democracies.
- Will the recommendations that you will give the channel be publicized?
Yes, we have no reason to hide them.