International organizations carry out media transparency and freedom monitoring every year. In terms of media freedom, today Georgia ranks 69th among 180 countries, but the country is leader in the South Caucasus Region. As to the rating dynamics, Georgia improves positions year by year. Especially, after the 2012 elections, Georgia is frequently recorded in the growing trend of ratings and this tendency, in its turn, depends on state policy.
One of the benchmarks for media transparency calls for publicity of its owners and representatives. Under the 2010 legislative amendments, all media outlets were obliged to publicize owners and founders. The bill also banned offshore companies to own a TV company in Georgia. These amendments were developed under recommendations of foreign partners.
Moreover, various nongovernmental organizations and political parties have requested from the previous government to publicize the information. The US Establishment has frequently stressed the necessity and importance of making these legislative amendments. Similar recommendations were embodied into the US-Georgia strategic partnership charter with a clear indication that Georgia must improve the situation in terms of media freedom. OSCE has given the same recommendation for banning offshore companies at the legislative level of owning broadcasting license and for publicizing the owners.
Secrecy of founders of media outlets has often caused political confrontation and sharp debates. Moreover, biased coverage by various media companies generate grounded doubts that this or that media body is controlled by this or that political party or a politician. Fortunately, today internet space enables to clarify who stands behind this or that TV company. We introduce information on owners of several leading TV companies. It is interesting who manages the fourth Authorities and what political goals drive owners of Georgia-based media outlets.
When talking about media freedom, all of us may recall, first of all, Imedi TV company developments, dispersal of this TV company. It was appropriated through violation of all norms and laws. The then Authorities disrupted the live broadcasting and appropriated it from the legal owner by illegal means. Later, the then Authorities appointed Giorgi Arveladze, member of the then government and Economy Minister, as a director of the company. He used to serve interests of the ruling political party in the TV company.
In several days after the 2012 election, the TV company was returned to its legal owner. Today LLC Georgian Media Group holds a 100% stake in Imedi TV Company. At the same time, Badri Patarkatsishvili’s spouse Ina Gudavadze holds a 100% stake in the mentioned company.
Personalities of owners of Rustavi 2 TV company are very important and interesting in this respect. It is often said the TV company is owned by ex President Mikheil Saakashvili, but it is impossible to prove this consideration in terms of documents. According to various journalistic investigations and NGO researches, there is a direct connection between Saakashvili and Rustavi 2. Currently, high ranking officials of the former Authorities occupy top management positions in Rustavi 2. Director general Nika Gvaramia worked at highest positions under the ruling of the United National Movement (UNM):
The 2003 parliamentary elections made Nika Gvaramia a member of the Georgian Parliament. In 2004 to 2007 he was MP from UNM. In 2007 he was appointed as deputy prosecutor general. In January 2008 Gvaramia was appointed as Justice Minister. In October 2008 Gvaramia was appointed a Minster of Education and Sciences, but in 2009 he resigned and continued studies abroad.
Rustavi 2 financial director is Kakhaber Damenia, the former Deputy Economy Minister from UNM. As reported, Damenia jointly with Nika Gvaramia, Aleksandre Khetaguri and other officials were detained by the Finance Ministry investigation department after the 2012 elections on charge of taking bribe in huge amounts and developing and implementing criminal case through adulterated tax and official documents to mask the crime. They were released soon on bail.
Rustavi 2 founders are as follows: Levan Karamanishvili (22%), Giorgi Karamanishvili (18%), Nino Nizharadze (9%), LLC Georgia TV company (51%). It is worth noting brothers Karamanishvilis own 100% stake in the company that holds a controlling interest in Rustavi 2. As a result, they control a 91% stake in Rustavi 2. It is also interesting who brothers Karamanishvilis are. This business group had got exclusive conditions for doing business under the UNM ruling and they were considered the ex President’s familiar persons. According to certain information, one of the brothers was a university fellow of Mikheil Saakashvili. Moreover, reliable sources assert the mentioned business group has provided considerable financial support to the Rose Revolution and this factor had become a ground for granting them exclusive rights for doing business.
Owners of GDS TV company that is associated with ex Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is also very interesting. The TV company is owned by Bera Ivanishvili, a son of the ex Prime Minister. He holds a 100% stake in the TV company. This information is public. It should be stressed GDS followed only entertainment TV company policy, but later this profile has changed. At this stage, the TV company broadcasts information-analytical talk-show 20/30. Besides GDS, media interest of the family of Ivanishvili was in the 9th channel, but after Ivanishvili came to power, he took a decision on closing the company and the ex prime minister explained the step by conflict of political interests. Ivanishvili was saying it was unacceptable for him, as the highest political figure to have direct or indirect access to a media outlet.
After the new Authorities came to power, a new TV channel appeared with name of Tabula. The company started broadcasting in January 2013. It is owned by NPLE Civil Development Fund. The list of founders is as follows: Giorgi Nodia, Giga Zedania, Levan Ramishvili, Aleksi Machavriani, Beka Mindiashvili, David Paichadze, Kakha Bendukidze, Giorgi Pruidze, Nino Gogiberidze, David Kovziridze, Irakli Saghinadze, Ketevan Devdariani, Giorgi Liponava and Tamar Chergoleishvili.
Tamar Chergoleishvili occupies the position of a director of the TV company. The Georgian society perceives Tabula as an opposition TV company and it is often mentioned as a satellite company of UNM. Similar considerations are natural, because a major part of the TV company founders have direct relations with UNM. For example, Gia Nodia who was an education minister under the UNM ruling. Kakha Bendukidze, who dies in 2014, was also an Economy Minister under the UNM ruling, while Tamar Chergoleishvili is a spouse to Giga Bokeria, one of the ideologists and leaders of UNM. Levan Ramishvili is one of the founders of Liberty Institute and a key figure in the Rose Revolution planning.
Maestro TV company is one of the leading television bodies in Georgia. Eter Gabadadze is its director general. The list of founders is as follows: Mamuka Ghlonti (15%). It should be noted the TV company was founded by Mamuka Ghlonti and initially, the channel broadcast only entertaining programs. Levan Chikvaidze holds a 15% stake, Giorgi Ebralidze – 15%, Maka Asatiani – 25%, singer Giorgi Gachechiladze – 25% and Ekaterine Akobia controls 5%.
Maestro TV company was often criticized under the UNM ruling. The company’s property was arrested in that time. In 2011 Maestro purchased satellite antennas to widen coverage by handing over these antennas to Georgian citizens. The previous government appropriated these antennas and seized the TV company entirely on charge of plans for bribing electors through these antennas. This was an absurd accusation and its aim was to restrict free opinion. This decision was immediately appraised as a pressure on media freedom at reports of various international organizations.
As to the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), in this case the situation is different. The TV company founder is the state that holds a 100% stake in the entity. GPB is a legal entity of public law and it is fully independent from the Authorities on the ground of its statute. GPB is responsible to only the society.
The GBP managing structure is as follows: director general that is elected by the supervisory board. The supervisory board members are elected by the Parliament. Various bodies submit candidates for the board with the following portions: Public Defender (2 candidates), parliament’s majority (3 candidates), at least one fourth of majority MPs outside the parliament put forward 3 candidates and the Autonomous Republic of Achara is able to name 1 candidate.
The main mission of the GPB is to provide maximally unbiased coverage without serving some political interests. GPB also includes the 2nd channel and two radio stations.