After Kakha’s Bekauri’s decision on quitting TV company Channel 9 his post of Director General was occupied by Luba Eliashvili, deputy Director General in the field of information policy. Following her coming into power some of the journalists quit the channel. Why did they say no to work together with Luba Eliashvili, whose interests was she intending to pursue and why waas the reorganization of the channel launched – to enquire about the issues Media.Ge talked to Channel 9’s former head of news service Tamar Rukhadze, having quit the company together with journalists.
What tasks were you assigned by the company management when you came to the channel?
When offered to head the news service you first of all ask whether they are aware what kind of news you are doing, what principles you follow. Prior to starting my job I talked to Kakha Bekauri. I used to work with him earlier too, therefore there was no need to discuss details. We coincided over the way of doing work. I was concerned about the independence of my activities. I have been told that he as a Director General, as a supervising person, would be the guarantee for freedom. The only challenge now was to set up a newsroom and then make news.
What remarks were made during your work, what complaints did the channel management have?
I felt myself accountable to viewers, my journalists and Director General. No remarks or complaints were made by either.
What role was Luba Eliashvili assuming within this process? She turned out to have been deputy director in the field of information policy.
Yes, she used to be Deputy Director General. But her position was absolutely formal for that simple reason that she was not making decisions. Ms Luba had neither authority nor influence to have her opinion taken into account. She would come to the television very seldom. In the pre-election period she expressed her own wills in relation to certain issues, that were unacceptable to us.
What kind of wills? What did you disagree on?
For instance she was suggesting to have only one party covered for two months in row. These kind of ideas and wills sounded incomprehensible to me. That would not be acceptable to any reporter at Channel 9.
There was a TV story on xenophobia, we mentioned the policy makers that ever said anything of the kind. The Georgian Dream coalition member was one of those. Ms Luba wanted to exclude this policy maker from the story.
Did Luba Eliashvili want to have Georgian Dream covered in the Channel 9 news program in a positive tone?
Yes. Director General was then the decision maker, therefore I did not think myself responsible for taking deputy director’s wills and opinions into account.
Kakha Bekauri was the guarantee for editorial independence?
Of course, he was.
Luba Eliashvili’s one of the complaints to your channel was the low rating. Had the company management ever had similar complaints earlier?
If Luba Eiashvili used to be deputy director in the field of information policy why wasn’t she responsible for the lack of rating? I don’t know whether she trusts recent surveys but according to the findings Channel 9 had a higher rating than expected.
What other complaints would the incumbent Director General have?
Speaking at the meeting she said the news programs were uninteresting and made in a snobbish manner. I don’t understand what a snobbish TV story means. Ms Luba said she liked the style INFO 9 followed. Despite my deep respect to the people working there I don’t it’s a right policy the agency pursued. There is one standard INFO 9 was applying and there is another one Channel 9 was guided with. I work this way, hence it’s impossible to co-work with the people that do not accept this standard. You should either obey or leave.
We all suggested to stay on the channel to avoid the suspension of the TV operation as long as needed. In response she said we were free right away.
For a few days we were trying to meet with the management, but it did not work.
After Luba Eliashvili’s coming into television the reorganization of the channel was to start which implies changes in the format – instead of news channel the channel will launch general broadcasting. Was reorganization discussed previously?
From the end of December the movement to a new office was planned, several projects were discussed, including the morning project, evening newscast, talk show. I was personally working on a two-hour program within the news programming. The process was almost complete. The switchover to general broadcasting and addition of entertainment programs was not considered.
New premises in Dighomi are done and everything is automatized for news broadcasting from morning to evening. There are no studios suitable for general broadcasting. The new programming was meant for news format only.
What do you think, why were the plans changed?
It’s a puzzle to me.
They say a lot of money was spent on the new office and Channel 9. It’s incomprehensible if a lot was expended in the Digomi office which is fit for news and now you are switching to general broadcasting it means you are dumping this money.
Some of the society thought Channel 9 was an election project. Did you expect it to be a long-term undertaking?
Bidzina Ivanishvili repeatedly stated that earlier he had made a big mistake closing Channel 9 down and he would not do the same, therefore we did not think it was just a pre-election project. Moreover, we could see whatever was being done for the new premises, everything was meant for a longer period. My contract was one-year, we were supposed to work at least a year.
Was Kakha Bekauri’s decision unexpected to you? Was this issue discussed before?
No, ultimately that was unexpected. I might have been hearing some rumors, but when the channel’s management is working on long-term projects and renewed programming is about to be launched his decision on quitting the company was unexpected, of course.
You have surely had a talk with him. What was his clarification for giving up his job?
It was very much clear from his comment that the decision was not made by him.
The Saerto Gazeti accused you of being the National Movement agent. You said you are going to lodge a complaint.
I am going to show lawyers the print version of the newspaper. It does not matter to me how many people are reading this article. My honor and dignity was evidently compromised, and false information released. They reported false while it was very easy to verify. And no one got in touch with me from the edition.
I am very far from the idea that all that was devised by Irina Gogisashvili [the author of the article]. It is a targeted campaign to prove that the people having quit the television were bad and it’s a good thing they left.