EU Parliament warns of danger for media pluralism in Georgia

28 October 2015 / By Dan Alexe.

All main political groups of the European Parliament voiced concern on Thursday 29 October over an ownership dispute involving Georgia’s biggest independent TV company, Rustavi 2, and said it could harm media freedom.

A court in Tbilisi earlier this month ordered a seizure of shares in the company that owns Rustavi 2, which government officials have often accused of bias, until a final verdict on the ownership dispute.

Former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi is seeking to claim back his shares in the broadcaster, one of the most popular in the former Soviet republic.

The court ordered a freeze on Rustavi 2’s property in August. Its managers say Khalvashi’s lawsuit and the court’s decisions were politically motivated and accused the government of being behind Khalvashi’s bid.

“We are extremely worried”, write the MEPs in an open letter, “about possible taking over of “Rustavi 2″, Georgia’s leading and the most popular independent TV station, and subsequent change in its editorial policy. In our view, this will significantly limit the political level playing field and threaten fairness of the 2016 parliamentary elections.”

“We remain repeatedly alarmed over the continuous prosecutions of leadership and members of the former ruling party, including former Prime Minister, former President, former ministers of Defence and Justice, former Mayor of Tbilisi, and others, including grassroots leaders. We express our concern over numerous facts of frequent abuse of pre-trial detention, political interference into the activities of the prosecution, political pre-selection of judges, and systematic abuse of the presumption of innocence.”

“Last but not least, we regret to hear the statements made by individuals from the ruling Coalition in trying to “rehabilitate” Iosif Stalin as well as to see his statues being re-erected in different places of the country. We deplore strongly this and ask the current Coalition in power to show due respect to the memory of millions of innocent victims of Stalinism, including in Georgia itself.”

Last week, on Thursday 22 October, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also voiced its concern.

“According to reports, Rustavi 2 is experiencing significant financial and logistical constraints, effectively limiting its capacity to operate freely,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, said in a statement.

“If not lifted soon, the court order will entail serious restrictions on the diversity and plurality of the media in the country.”

She said the situation was especially worrisome as a parliamentary election in Georgia is scheduled for next year.

Opposition politicians and many independent experts say the process is an attempt to silence an independent media in the country of 3.7 million.

Government officials deny any involvement in this case.

“My government fully supports a pluralistic media environment…I am saddened to witness the recent attempts to politicize the legal dispute between two private parties regarding the ownership of Rustavi 2,” Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili said.

Previously Published in New Europe

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