Tabula steps up pressure on TI

by | Dec 15, 2011

TBILISI, DFWatch – A Georgian magazine is increasing the pressure on Transparency International and asks its headquarters to cut one the chapters in a report.

Tabula has sent a statement to the US ambassador, the director of USAID, and representatives of IREX, and even to the head office of Transparency International in Berlin, asking to have retracted a chapter of a new report by TI Georgia about the Georgian advertising market.

The reason is that Tabula considers itself unfairly portrayed.

The chapter in question is called ‘Tabula Versus Liberali’, and deals with how unevenly advertisement revenues are distributed in the Georgian market among otherwise similar media outlets. The great difference is explained as a symptom of a significant monopolization of the advertisement sector, where a few large companies are favoring those outlets that are least independent.

Ilustrating the situation, the report compares those two weekly magazines. The editor in-chief and founder of Tabula magazine is Tamara Chergoleishvili, wife of Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, and a close ally of president Saakashvili. It says that famous companies like the Georgian Lottery Company, which according to the report is owned by the government, advertises in Tabula, while there are very few advertisements in Liberali, which publishes investigative reports and other critical articles.

Tabula claims that the report was conducted without its authors contacting any employee at Tabula, while the Liberali editor is even quoted in the report.

“The representative of Transparency International Georgia, Mr. Mathias Huter, has explained in his comments to different media outlets that we were not consulted during the drafting process or quoted in the report because the report is not ‘about Tabula’,” Thursday’s Tabula statement says.

“The report is not about Liberali either, yet its editor-in-chief, Shorena Shaverdashvili, was consulted and quoted by Transparency International Georgia. The report clearly and very closely follows Liberali’s narrative on this issue.”

The statement also quotes TI Georgia that they were surprised by the strong reaction from Tabula, as it wasn’t their intention to accuse the magazine of any wrongdoing.

Tamara Chergoleishvili, editor in chief of Tabula.

“We are certainly grateful that Transparency International Georgia did not brand us as a bunch of criminals. At the same time, however, we remain convinced that the reputation of Tabula has been wrongly damaged by the fact that a respected international NGO used our magazine unfairly to make the point that political pressure on the advertising market is the reason why ‘independent’ Liberali ‘has been struggling’ while Tabula has not.”

Yesterday, TI Georgia issued a response to Tabula’s first statement after the report had been presented on December 13, in which Tabula named several reasons for why there are more advertisements in it compared to Liberali or other media outlets.

Answering, TI says that the main goal of the report has been to make clear the systemic problems in the Georgian advertising market. They say that in the 50-page report there is only one paragraph about Tabula, which shows ‘what each reader will find out while reading it.’

“The governmental structures also advertise in this magazine. In this case the advertising happens on the public expenses and these bodies are expected to be more transparent,” the statement says, adding that they must ensure that public money that is spent on some media unit ‘doesn’t represent a hidden subsidy for the business.’

TI’s statement says that they have studied the audience that Liberali and Tabula have, and both magazines are ‘of high quality.’ The readers are people interested in political and cultural events.

“If someone indicates to our actual errors we of course will fix it. But nobody has yet appealed with such request.”

A large audience turned up at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel Monday to listen to the findings in TI’s new report about the advertising market in Georgia. It said that the marketing sector in the country is monopolized and revolves around a small network of people headed by David Kezerashvili, the former Defense Minister who led the army during the war with Russia in 2008. The organization presented a diagram which shows some of that network of persons and businesses involved (see illustration here).

When Mathias Huter mentioned Tabula and Liberali as examples, a journalist from Tabula magazine commented and a discussion ensued.

“We believe we are entitled to both a retraction and an apology from Transparency International Georgia,” writes the magazine’s editorial board in today’s statement released.



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