Georgia: Imedi returns to work, but faces an uncertain future
|Publication Date||7 December 2007|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgia: Imedi returns to work, but faces an uncertain future, 7 December 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4783866626.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
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Paul Rimple: 12/07/07
A month to the day the plug was pulled on Georgia's Imedi broadcasting company, the television network is back. For now, though, the pro-opposition channel's TV presence amounts to a placeholder featuring a huge company logo superimposed on a tranquil scene of mountains and a river. On December 7, Radio Imedi also resumed operations, broadcasting easy listening and soft jazz music.
The images of calm are at sharp variance with a prolonged tussle between the company and government over the station's ownership structure, as well as allegations of treasonous activity. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. How long the existing truce will last is open to conjecture.
Accusations have already begun to fly over a reported meeting in London between Badri Patarkatsishvili, an Imedi stakeholder and a current presidential candidate, and representatives of rival opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze. Gachechiladze has announced that he is seeking the tycoon's campaign financial support. Members of the ruling United National Movement Party have denounced the initiative as unethical.
It is the type of political controversy on which the former Imedi news shows thrived. But upon regaining access to the station's compound in suburban Tbilisi late on December 6, station executives told Georgian television journalists that the state of equipment is such that they can make no prediction about when broadcasts will resume. Websites for both the television and radio station remain inaccessible.
Television staffers were allowed back on the station's premises after a December 6 court order that unfroze the company's assets and a December 4 decision by the Georgian National Communications Commission that restored the station's broadcast license. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The earlier measures had been taken as part of an investigation into whether Patarkatsishvili had used the television station in an attempt to foment political unrest, with the aim of toppling President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Based on a preliminary assessment, according to Imedi Executive Director Bidzina Baratashvili, the station is missing part of its satellite transmission equipment, as well as equipment from the central broadcasting studio, computer processors, several video cameras, plus microphones and earpieces, Public Television reported.
A later assessment, however, suggested that broadcasts may be able to resume in time for the January 5 presidential election and referendum.
Imedi staff gave tours to rival television news teams on December 7. Both Imedi and Ministry of Interior cameras were used to record conditions inside the television station initially, public television reported. Government officials have indicated that the station will be compensated for material losses, pending an official appraisal.
With Imedi's potential return to the airwaves, further changes could also be in store. Georgian Public Television has announced plans to host twice weekly the country's first presidential election debates. Details have yet to be released.
Meanwhile, gone are the broadcasts of recorded conversations and meetings between opposition leaders and alleged Russian intelligence operatives that were used to support the alleged connection between the Kremlin and Patarkatsishvili. Nor is anyone taking responsibility for producing a controversial documentary aired on Georgian public television and the pro-government Rustavi-2 on November 20, just days after Georgia canceled its state of emergency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The film, "From November to November" (a reference to the November 2003 Rose Revolution and the November 7, 2007 unrest in Tbilisi), uses a news footage montage to argue that Russia is bent on overthrowing the Saakashvili administration with the help of Patarkatsishvili and other opposition leaders. A diagram is used to chart the alleged relationship between all players.
The November 7 crackdown on protestors is portrayed as a chain of events that allegedly began with opposition calls for violence. Protestors are shown attacking police, but footage of police using force against protestors is omitted.
In a debate subsequently aired on public television, political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze termed the film an obvious PR move for Saakashvili's reelection campaign, while another analyst, Giorgi Gechechiladze, argued that the long history of alleged Russian aggression against Georgia made the topic a challenging one for adequate coverage.
At the time of broadcast, the documentary sparked strong discussion among viewers. But the film's director remains unknown. In a November 22 statement, Georgian Public Broadcasting said that the documentary had been produced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the General Prosecutor's Office. The state-financed company told EurasiaNet that its own role had been limited to "some technical editing."
Both the Interior Ministry and the general prosecutor's office, however, flatly deny producing the film.
One well-connected Tbilisi analyst believes that the reluctance to claim responsibility for the film stems from the government's attempt to improve its negative image. "Personally, I think the film was made by the Prosecutor General's office to make their case against Badri Patarkatsishvili," said Liberty Institute Director Levan Ramishvili, who did not see the film.
Another analyst, who did view portions of the documentary, also sees the government's mark. "It's a presentation of the government's views, to justify its actions (on November 7)," commented the Caucasus Institute for Peace and Development's Ghia Nodia. "It was propaganda style. Some parts were more convincing than others."
But despite the speculation, the government maintains it has no ambitions to become a political documentary filmmaker. "The Interior Ministry has nothing to do with the film, and we are not planning anything before the elections," commented Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili.
Editor's Note: Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
Posted December 7, 2007 © Eurasianet