TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian opposition financier Ivanishvili’s Channel 9 has launched an Internet news service, with scores of reporters around the country’s regions.
As less than four months are left until a decisive parliamentary election, the main opposition bloc has in place a network of journalists all over the country that might counter the dominance of three national pro-government TV channels.
The website info9.ge was launched one month ago and is run by the TV station Channel 9, which is owned by the wife of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian billionaire who went into politics in 2011 in an effort to end the dominance of President Saakashvili’s regime.
After the bloodless coup in 2003 which brought Saakashvili to power, people have periodically revolted against the hard-handed manner in which his reforms have been implemented. The opposition mainly emanated from Tbilisi’s political circles, and this has proved too narrow a base to mobilize the broader populace, when all national TV channels are pro-government.
In a departure from these years of failed revolt, Ivanishvili linked with journalists in the regions, to establish independent news coverage from all regions of Georgia.
The new news website claims to have equipped all its more than 50 reporters with video cameras and is currently covering all regions of Georgia. The website promises to increase its number of correspondents to 250 soon.
Chair of info9 is Manana Eliashvili, who has worked at the TV company Iberia and Radio Imedi. She is the sister of journalist Luba Eliashvili.
Despite the apparent linkage, representatives of info9 claim the new agency has no connection to Ivanishvili’s political coalition Georgian Dream.
The website’s office is located in Tbilisi, in a building owned by Ivanishvili’s Cartu Foundation.
Eliashvili told the website media.ge that they are facing problems carrying out their work in the regions. She said the agency sent several journalists to Akhaltsikhe, a small town in south Georgia, but the journalists refused to work there and came back. She suspects that the reporters were subjected to pressure.
Eliashvili says their reporters were harassed in two other regions; Tsalenjikha and Akhmeta. Journalists were threatened about dire consequences if they didn’t leave info9. One of the threats was that they would be arrested for possession of drugs, and that drugs would be planted in their homes. Other journalists with info9 reported that they were blackmailed.