On 10 August 2015, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the United National Movement, Giga Bokeria, assessed the court case against Rustavi 2 and explained that the only reason for this case to be in court is to create problems during the pre-election period. According to Mr Bokeria, Dvalidze, Akimidze and Khalvashi are part of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s plan to silence and capture Rustavi 2. "Ivanishvili has publicly talked about this plan, using these individuals, upon numerous occasions, pledged his support to them and, in fact, called upon them to take these steps. The same was done by Kaladze as well as by Gharibashvili. The decision of the court is politically motivated as it violates the elementary norms such as the expiration date of the case," said Mr Bokeria.FactCheck
examined the events concerning Rustavi 2 in chronological order and analysed the statements of government members.
According to the existing data, the shares among the owners of Rustavi 2 are currently distributed in the following manner: Levan Karamanishvili – 22%, Giorgi Karamanishvili – 18%, TV Sakartvelo – 51% and Nino Nizharadze – 9%.
The former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has spoken about the problems concerning Rustavi 2 upon numerous occasions and accused the company of spreading lies, being in an alliance with the United National Movement and following their ideology. During one of his press conferences, he stated that Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Davit Dvali and Akimidze, on the one hand, and Kibar Khalvashi, on the other hand, were expressing their dissatisfaction and saying that their shares were taken away illegally. He positively assessed the demand of the television’s previous owners about getting back their shares and explained that from his point of view, these people are the actual owners of Rustavi 2.
On air on Imedi TV, the Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Kakha Kaladze, expressed his hope that Rustavi 2 would go back to its real owner. In addition, on 11 May 2014 Mr Kaladze stated: "It is very bad that Rustavi 2 continues the shameful work which it has been doing for the past nine years, propagating filth. This must end once and for all and we promise our people that it will end."
The current Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, also expressed his dissatisfaction with Rustavi 2 and accused the company of being in alliance with the United National Movement. In addition, during his speech to the media, he purposely refused to answer a question from a Rustavi 2 journalist. Rustavi 2 has also been criticised by other members of the ruling coalition upon a number of occasions.
In March 2015, the Chairman of the Georgian Dream – Industrialists faction, Gogi Topadze, answered a question from a Rustavi 2 journalist with a threat: "Be careful, or you might end up in prison due to your partiality," said the MP.
On 4 August 2015, businessman, Kibar Khalvashi, addressed the court in order to get his share of Rustavi 2 back and demanded the seizure of Rustavi 2 owner shares in order to uphold his lawsuit. According to the explanation of Mr Khalvashi’s lawyers: "Kibar Khalvashi was forced to give up his share in Rustavi 2 in December 2006 due to the pressure from high-ranking officials of the government, including Mikheil Saakashvili."
On 5 August 2015, Tbilisi City Court decided on the seizure of the shares of Rustavi 2 owners and the whole property of the company as well. Rustavi 2 is banned from selling, leasing or in any way encumbering its movable property such as the TV or radio transmission equipment, generators and cars as well as from doing any kind of bank activities until the lawsuit is concluded.
The Citizen Code of Georgia regulates the issue of forced agreements. Article 89 of the Code says that "a forced agreement can be taken to court within a year from being forced." Point B of Article 132 of the Code states that the expiration date can be abolished if a "special and, in the given case, unavoidable force hinders the filing of a lawsuit." If the claimant was unable to file a complaint during the term of the government which he accused of illegally taking away his property, he must have addressed the court within a year after the government changed. According to Kibar Khalvashi’s lawyer’s statement, he addressed the Prosecutor’s Office many times during the office of the new government, both on the case of Rustavi 2 as well as about other facts of illegal seizure of property, but received no answer. The Media Development Fund requested information about whether or not Mr Khalvashi filed a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office. The response letter says that the Prosecutor’s Office is unable to satisfy such a demand.
According to the explanation of Rustavi 2’s General Director, Nika Gvaramia, the lawsuit against the company is politicised and has nothing to do with the restoration of violated rights. Mr Gvaramia said that this is a plan which Bidzina Ivanishvili is using to attack Rustavi 2. The opposition also says that the lawsuit against Rustavi 2 is politicised. The governing coalition categorically excludes the existence of a political motive in the case. According to the statement of the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, this is a legal dispute between two subjects and the role of the government in this case is equal to zero.
The non-governmental sector has also pointed towards the existence of political interests in the case against Rustavi 2. The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) assessed the seizure of the shares and the property of Rustavi 2 on 10 August 2015. GYLA believes that the decision of the court does not correspond to the high standard of argumentation which must be used in any case where not only two legal subjects but the public interest and the risk of harming it are involved.
On 14 August 2015, the Public Defender of Georgia also made a statement about Rustavi 2. According to the Ombudsman’s assessment, the court limited the property right of Rustavi 2 to the point which could harm the broadcasting capacity of the company and impede the distribution of wages, the employment of journalists and the production of new programmes and so on which, in their own turn, could negatively impact the country’s freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
On 11 August 2015, the Representative of the OSCE in Affairs of Freedom of the Mass Media, Dunia Miatovich, stated: "The decision of the court might negatively influence Rustavi 2’s ability to work freely. This decision is disproportionate and excessive, possibly endangering media pluralism in Georgia. I call upon the Government of Georgia to ensure media pluralism in the country."On 17 August 2015, the acting Ambassador of the United States to Georgia, Nicholas Berliner, also assessed the court case against Rustavi 2. In his conversation with Media.ge
he stated: "The development of events in a manner which creates the impression of endangering the freedom of media or violating media pluralism is definitely regrettable." Mr Berliner called upon the Government of Georgia to maintain the highest possible standards in the court system. According to his explanation, his statement about Rustavi 2 reflects the official position of the United States and the Embassy of the United States to Georgia.
On 17 September 2015, Tbilisi City Court did not approve the motion on the abolition of the seizure of Rustavi 2’s property and left the 5 August 2015 decision of the Court in place.The summer turned out to be the hottest for the media. On 29 August 2015, an announcement was made that Imedi TV had temporarily suspended the production of two of its talk shows, Reaction and Imedis Kvira. The company’s management stated that the reason for the suspension of the talk shows was the changing format of the company itself. However, the host of the talk shows, Inga Grigolia, connected this fact to political pressure. Parallel to Imedi TV, the Public Broadcaster of Georgia also announced the cancellation of Eka Mishveladze’s talk show,The First Studio.
According to the Adviser to the Director of the Public Broadcaster of Georgia, Basa Janikashvili, the cancellation of Ms Mishveladze’s talk show was due to her marital status (she married one of the leaders of the Free Democrats) and a conflict of interests. However, as Ms Mishveladze stated, she is still waiting for an explanation as no one has officially spoken to her about the cancellation of her talk show.
The Administration of the President of Georgia also commented upon the events connected with the Georgian media. "The trend that the processes in the media create questions is concerning, especially given the start of the new political season and the looming Parliamentary elections," says the statement.
On 21 September 2015, a meeting between the media, the diplomatic corps and representatives of international organisations was held at the Courtyard Marriott on the initiative of Transparency International - Georgia. The main topic of the meeting was the recent developments in the Georgian media. As Eka Gigauri explained, the cancellation of some political talk shows is especially problematic and many questions have arisen about this issue. Hence, it is very important for representatives of embassies and international organisations to receive information from media representatives themselves.
Rustavi 2 has received criticism from the former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, upon numerous occasions. He even pledged his support for the former owners of the company and stated that he considered them to be the real owners. The Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Kakha Kaladze, made a promise to the public that the "propaganda of filth," which Rustavi 2 continues, would end. The current Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, and other members of the ruling coalition have also expressed their dissatisfaction with Rustavi 2’s work upon various occasions.
Representatives of non-governmental organisations and opposition political parties also speak about the existence of political interests in the legal dispute towards Rustavi 2. The Public Defender of Georgia and many international partners have expressed their dissatisfaction and concern about the issue as well.FactCheck will carefully study the recent negative events in the Georgian media. It will actively monitor court trials against Rustavi 2 and continue impartially informing the public.