Changes in media started after parliamentary elections; redistribution of shares, selling or return of televisions to former owners took place. What was the goal of all this; how has media contributed to results of elections and what is necessary in order for media to create quality content? – About these and other issues media.ge spoke with the Chairman of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics Zviad KOridze.
Mr. Zviad, how has media changed after elections and what was the meaning of the redistribution of shares in different televisions?
Disorder and changes that are taking place at media market now have not come unexpectedly. This market has been chaotic and unstable. In order for a media outlet to be self-sustainable there must be will of television owners to invest money and develop their business; to create content that attracts advertisement revenues. During last decade in Georgia we have not had such electronic media outlet. The only media organization that had possibility to go for profit was Imedi TV in 2003-2007. A lot of funds have been invested in the given TV-Company but revenues by years were showing that the Company would start bringing full profit soon. Interference – political ambitions of initial owner and response of government to those ambitions stopped the given process. After that Imedi was just spending money. Nobody knew where this money came from, but they were spending. In reality our televisions are spenders. They are spending more money than there is at advertisement market. The given dynamics of figures creates question who is that kind uncle who funds the televisions from his own pocket. In the best cases those were financial groups that were linked to political groups. Business in Georgia was successful if it was linked to political forces. Televisions linked to financial-political groups could not create anything valuable so they were financially unstable.
Previous government was funding several broadcasters – Rustavi 2, Imedi, Real TV, Sakartvelo and majority of regional broadcasters, Mze. After the elections former political majority and financial groups linked to it started counting the capital – what they had before, what has remained with them and decided that they could not sustain many electronic media outlets. That is why, I believe, they made principle decision to fund only Rustavi 2; which means that money that the given financial-political corporation has now is enough only for sustaining one, good, high-quality television.
Imedi TV was formally returned to Patarkatsishvili’s family, but in reality they just got rid of this television. They even gave it the form of restoration of justice. It would have been far more important if it had been discussed in Court. What does it mean that television has been returned to Partkatsishvili’s family? If the family is not lodging a lawsuit for compensation of loss, than they must clarify why they do not. Why did they think it was normal that the television was in other’s hands during 5 years and why did they return it without reservations? The only reservation was that the television was returned without any debts. Who wrote off these debts? Imedi had up to GEL 15 million debts during last two years. What content has it created that just the tax debts have totaled GEL 15 million? The given television was just a regular money-laundering organization so that is why government decided to get rid of it.
A lot of regrouping of owners took place in televisions from 5 October to 5 November, which was confusing and created complete legal chaos. I truly believe Mikheil Saakashvili himself is the real owner of Rustavi 2 and that is why I think he will never give it up. If Rustavi 2 keeps the same editorial policy that it had before, it will lose even the remaining viewers. I am not sure that the current owners of the given channel want to create a modern broadcaster. The main staff change they have made – appointing of former Prosecutor General to the post of Director General of the channel means the statement – I want to make a biased political channel that will serve my interests and will have nothing to do with modern journalism. As for Real TV, it was sold for quite low amount – GEL 30 thousand. Even that was an extended market value for that TV-Company. I believe the kind of Management Company will enter the given television that will sustain the best traditions the channel has had – it will be a “black force” television.
It is important for Maestro and the 9th Channel not to form into “televisions of victorious people.” If it happens so they will have to go through the same route as Rustavi 2 did during 8 years. Maestro and the 9th Channel, which were in quite grave situation during 2012, “came to life” – advertisements have strengthened in both of them. This may be the sign that process of demonopolisation of advertisement market has started as Kezerashvili does not have administrative influence on business any more so he cannot force businesses to bring advertisements only to Rustavi 2 and Imedi, as it was happening before. Business may continue living with old traditions: by content the given two televisions are on government side so business thinks – it is probably better to plan ahead and bring advertisements to them as, as a rule here business never had high civil values.
I believe the 9th Channel is a problem for the Prime Minister so he wants to get rid of it. It permanently creates questions. It will quite hard to prove that editorial policy is independent in a television owned by Prime Minister’s spouse. If Prime Minister makes decision to hand the given television over to others it will be an important step to be taken by him; although, I also see risks in that too. He knows that this is the society that is completely ruled by media and it is used to being ruled by media. So if he loses the given television while his opponents do not give up their television he may appear in information vacuum and we will have government in obstruction created by media. It would be better for Bidzina Ivanishvili to sell the 9th Channel and give shares to the channel staff, or to think of some other form, but he should never do what he announced at the last press-conference – link it with the public broadcaster.
Why should he not do it?
It is possible for Ivanishvili to donate the 9th Channel equipment to the Public Broadcaster, but it is confusing how anyone can decide who to employ at Public Broadcaster. It is not the decision to be made just by the Public Broadcaster management. This is when we speak about legal norms. If we speak what would be better in general than it may even be better for journalists from other channels to also move to Public Broadcaster, not just from the 9th Channel.
Rustavi 2 played a decisive role in 2003 Parliamentary elections; what role has media plaid in the last elections?
It was not just Rustavi 2 factor in 2003. Rustavi 2 was the main partner of the than opposition and pro-governmental editorial policy of other televisions helped a lot for it to win. Just as the than governmental officials did not go to Rustavi 2 in summer and fall of 2003 the same happened now at the 9th Channel and Maestro. At that time Rustavi 2 was airing decisive footages, now the 9th Channel and Maestro did the same. There has been no survey but it can be alleged that the prison videos (torture of inmates) have decided the results of elections. In 2003 Internet was not so strong and extensive as it was now. In villages and regions where cable operators did not exist now and the Must Carry principle did not operate, our citizens received information from televisions right from Internet. Media was not free at these elections so it has been failed to fully inform our citizens, while it would have allowed us to create calm election environment. Media failed to do so due to political factors. As for emotional background media managed to create it so we formally had elections, but by content it was revolution; it did not happen in dispute, discussion, debates; it was an emotional choice.
After the elections to what extent is Georgian media taking steps for creating quality production and how does it influence the quality of the production that journalists who have worked for other media outlets and have always been distinguished by unethical work are not starting working for televisions that have ambitions for creating quality media content?
That is a natural process: barriers cannot be created artificially for anyone. A person goes to work for a television with his own background. TV-Manager knows who has come to work for him and realizes the responsibility. It is important that viewers themselves know it. If viewers “approve” a program of this or that journalist nothing can change it. If audience watches a program that violates ethical standards often it means that media-education quality is low. In modern reality responsibility of viewers is also important. They must say – this program does not give me precise information, it is not impartial, it is full of ethical problems so we do not want this program. In such cases TV-Company decides to stop that program. Today the situation does not change in this view as several demographic parameters tell us that elder viewers in Georgia are conservative and they prefer the principle of already selected programs. That is why media does not show much innovation. We do not have programs that would be giving source to think, initiate public discussion, or to provoke public processes. These channels are full of talk-shows, but media covers ongoing issues only statically; the processes that are really going on in the society do not enter the media environment. Topics created by politicians dominate here.
If we analyze the content from elections until today we will see the same “talking heads” on three television channels – Maestro, 9th Channel and Kavkasia. This looks like the same policy as the previous pro-governmental televisions Rustavi 2, Imedi and Public Broadcaster had.
What is going on in Rustavi 2 and the Public Broadcaster?
They are in process of forming editorial schedule. For example in one of the reports aired by Rustavi 2 on Prague NATO Parliamentary Assembly they had representatives only of the previous government. They do not realize yet that there is a new government in the country; that there is a new reality. It means that they are still showing the virtual reality to voters in which we must watch only National Movement faces.
Inspection of the Public Broadcaster by Tax Service was assessed as pressure on media; do you agree to this?
It is not a problem when government inspects legality of spending of public capital. It is as simple as this – I gave you money from the State budget so now you have to report back to me. If you report back and there is debt I have full right to inspect you. If government interferes with the content of the First Channel then we can speak about interference with editorial policy. Still, editorial policy non-interference obligation of government does not mean that Public Broadcaster should not have editorial policy at all, or that it must be the way it today: topics are being blocked, important issues are not being discussed. It is natural that when there is deficit of civil values government may take a chance and interfere with this policy. This would be dangerous. For this not to happen the Public Broadcaster must be smart enough to conduct its editorial policy by considering public interests. There is no problem in the inspection of spending of funds; this is not indirect censorship; Public Broadcaster does not depend on advertisements, private donations, so it was not correct when certain politicians and the Public Broadcaster Management tried to put out certain accents.
From 2013 the third, Russian-language channel of the Public Broadcaster First Information Caucasus (PIK) will not exist in the given form. Do you think it was necessary to have this channel and what role did it play at the media market?
A channel may be Russian-language, at of any main languages that are native for citizens of Georgia. It would be good for the Public Broadcaster to initiate creation of Russian-language channels not like PIK was, but community broadcasting platform and to make Armenian, Azeri, Russian, Ossetian community broadcasters. This should not be done as today; when Moambe (First Channel newscast) is translated into these languages. Those must be independent channels which will help citizens of Georgia to receive information in their native languages. That would not exclude them from Georgian State and public life and marginalization of these groups would not take place. PIK would not be able to do it, as population of Georgia was not its target audience. Its target audience was people living outside Georgia. Furthermore, it was targeted at the audience in Russia with one main reason – I propose you the beautiful image of Georgia and you must be convinced that everything is so good in Georgia that Georgia is the best and Russia is the worst. Television made in such black-and-white tones is bad. There were pluses also – interesting reports from many locations, but it is very expensive to insure provision of information to Russian citizens at the expense of Georgian budget. If the Georgian Public Broadcaster will come out with an initiative and say that it wants foreign broadcasting necessary for circulating interesting information from Georgia abroad that such a program can be made, but then I have a question – why only in Russian language and not in English, or for example in Chinese?! PIK was money-laundering organization and no effect has been received from its content.
And the last question. Do you think provision of the status of public broadcaster to Adjara TV will guarantee its reformation into an independent television?
If we want Adjara TV to be an independent television it must be sold. I believe it inadvisable to have two or more public televisions in Georgia. Citizens forming the GDP are taking equal share in funding public broadcasters. If we make two public broadcasters and one of them is regional then we have discriminatory conditions. It means that Adjara Autonomous Republic population must take additional expenses. Or can we speak about gross domestic product of Adjara? It is nonsense. If we make tax-payers registered in Adjara to pay additional tax it will also be discriminatory. If we do not do that and go on with the current formula it will be discriminatory for population living outside Adjara, as unlike Adjara population they will have only one public broadcaster. We should not allow such discrimination. Georgia must have one public broadcaster and that broadcaster must think of regional policy. Regional studios can be organized throughout Georgia which will be structural entities of the Public Broadcaster and which on one hand will provide diverse information the GPB and on the second hand will make daily 2-3 hour regional programs that will be aired at the territories of those regions. It can be argued that it is a complicated model, but if Adjara TV will continue as it is now the money will just be spent for nothing. It will be the responsibility of those politicians who are saying that Adjara must have its own television.