The billionaire businessman who said he would run in the next election has received a cold shoulder from two independent TV stations he said he wants to buy.
Bidzina Ivanishvili’s extensive written statement about his political goals, which was published on Friday October 7, focuses particular attention on Georgian television. While criticizing President Saakashvili’s regime, Ivanishvili emphasizes that all the president is doing would have been impossible without total control over the media.
“All media including Maestro and Kavkazia are controlled by Saakashvili. They are special-purpose pseudo-oppositional channels,” the statement says. Their broadcasting cover only Tbilisi, and people in the capital clearly know what is the real situation and for the president there is no significant negative impact from what these channels will do, according to Ivanishvili’s statement. It goes on to state that the channels have a special purpose:
“They are a platform where a pseudo or real opposition has an opportunity to regularly express their position and voice their criticism of Saakashvili. Along with politicans, the aggrieved, poor citizens are able to take part in criticizing the government via telephone and express their anger,” he writes.
“Such a proposal runs profoundly counter to freedom of expression” –Tamar Kordzaia, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association
Shalva Ramishvili, journalist at Maestro TV responded to the statement on his Facebook page Friday. “I work for Maestro. I know how this channel is being run. I see with my own eyes that not a single politician neither the owners of the channel interferes with editorial policy,” he wrote.
“I don’t like when me and my colleagues are being called ‘Saakashvili television’,” Ramishvili added. “Ivanishvili must apologize or must specify the reasons to prove why Maestro is [under] Misha’s [control].”
In his statement Bidzina Ivanishvili says that he’s going to buy those TV stations, and he is ready to pay more than three times the market value for them. He proposes to set up a public information center that could integrate TV, radio and internet in order to improve the situation.
“I will pay three times the market value. Two years after purchasing the television stations, I will return them and pay a symbolic price of 1 GEL to its current owner,” the statement says. “From now on, all journalists, who are being fired for their objectivity or principles, will be welcomed in the future political party headquarters.”
“He calls Maestro Misha’s channel insulting the journalists this way, and then he comes to buy us?” — Shalva Ramishvili, journalist, Maestro TV
Tamar Kordzaia, lawyer with the Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, a Tbilisi-based advocacy group, also responded to Ivanishvili’s statement on her Facebook page, saying that he does not have a right to purchase the TV stations:
“According to the Law on Broadcasting, section 37, a political party or political officials cannot be license holder,” she writes. “I can’t imagine Ivanishvili not to be a political party official; not to mention that such a proposal runs profoundly counter to freedom of expression.”
“He calls Maestro Misha’s channel insulting the journalists this way, and then he comes to buy us?” – Shalva Ramishvili asks. “First he says we are Saakashvili’s television, and that will only be confirmed if we refuse him to buy the station.”
David Paitchadze, a journalist at the Georgian public broadcaster, was similarly critical of the financier-come-politician in an interview with the newspaper Rezonansi.
“If a person tells the media, you are free if you sell yourselves to me, and if you don’t than you are bribed by Saakashvili, then even a person without honor will reject such an offer. Such a proposal would result in great inconvenience for those who agree with it,” Paitchadze thinks.
After selling the TV station, the current owner will be entitled to retain 50% of the air time, according to Ivanishvili’s statement. “This means the owners of Maestro and Caucasus will be able to effectively maintain the current programs.”
“What form of cooperation is this?” Shalva Ramishvili asks. “Half of the air time will be yours. If I work for Saakashvili, it means that on the same channel, half the air time will be for Saakashvili and another half for the opposition? It’s nonsense and dilettantism.”
Back in 1996 Bidzina Ivanishvili founded Channel Nine TV, which came on air with informational and analytical programs in 1999. Later, in 2004, the channel was unexpectedly closed without any explanation. In 2009 the billionaire announced that he was going to revive the channel, but with another kind of license limiting its programs to only music and entertainment.
But instead, the regulatory commission revoked the license altogether. The stated reason was that according to law it is not allowed to keep a TV station closed for more than 90 days. Channel Nine had been closed for 5 years.