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What Does Georgia’s Kezerashvili Case Have to Do With Global Free Press?

Free Press in Georgia, David Kezerashvili Case

In the run-up to the latest local elections in Georgia, the privately owned and opposition-minded TV channel Formula TV aired the results of exit polls predicting that the ruling party would fail to cross the threshold. Soon after, a lawsuit was filed by the government against FormulaTV founder and owner David Kezerashvili, alleging embezzlement during his tenure as Georgian Defence Minister from 2006 to 2008. The lawsuit resulted in the Supreme Court of Georgia sentencing Mr. Kezerashvili to five years in prison. The sentence could result in losing all ownership rights to FormulaTV and impact the role of public media in Georgia. 

Although David Kezerashvili and FormulaTV are based in Georgia, the freedom of the press and private media is a worldwide concern. It is the bedrock of any state and a mark of true democracy. As a result, incidents like this should be viewed as a global warning of unstable democracies rather than a local one. With a history of state control of the media in Georgia and a weak democracy, it’s critical not to dismiss claims that the case is just another attempt by the government to influence the media.

In Georgia, the privately-owned media has always been affected by control from the government.  As a result of the sentencing of Mr. Kezerashvili, there was immediate speculation that the legal efforts against Mr. Kezerashvili was in actuality an attempt by the government to seize control of the television station.

Concerns Lawsuit Is Politically And Not Legally Motivated

It was in August of 2021 that the Ministry of Defence filed a lawsuit against David Kezerashvili, the owner and founder of Formula TV, for actions made while he was serving as the country’s Defence Minister during that time period (2006-2008). Previous investigations into the matter have ruled out misconduct and no new evidence was presented during the new trial. This has caused critics to claim the lawsuit was more politically motivated than legally justified and directed towards private media coverage of the election. This must also be seen in the light of the fact that the lawsuit against Kezerashvili was filed in conjunction with FormulaTV presenting an exit poll survey conducted by Edison Research showing the government would not overcome the 43% threshold. 

Despite significant criticism of the judicial proceedings, the Supreme Court of Georgia proceeded with their allegations. As a result, Kezerashvili issued a statement about the situation, which was distributed via Formula News. Mr. Kezerashvili has been interviewed by news outlets all over the world, and he believes the punishment is entirely political in nature, and that it is being used as a form of blackmail by the government to keep him and Formulatv under control. Commenting on what he believes to be the government’s most serious violation of freedom of expression, Mr. Kezerashvili insists that the administration be held accountable and that the channel will not be silenced. The General Director of FormulaTV,  Zuka Gumbaridze, even called on the US Embassy to “ take precautionary measures to prevent pressure on the exit polling company, their American or Georgian staff”. 

Georgia’s History Of Banning Private Media

It is important to note that this particular incident in Georgia is only one example of the country’s lengthy history of interfering in the affairs of the media. There are obvious similarities between the present litigation against David Kezerashvili and the attempt to shut down FormulaTV, and what happened to Rustavi 2 Channel in 2011.  In a scenario comparable to the current attempts to capture Kezerashvili’s station, this television station was seized, and one of its directors, Nika Gvaramia, was convicted in a manner that was identical to the current attempts to seize Kezerashvili’s station. When Bidzina Ivanishvili was in power in 2011, he sold Rustavi 2 to a well-known ally of the Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili for $1.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the general public’s suspicion of the media, which is one of the reasons why opposition to private media regulatory change has been so strong.

It is difficult for Georgia’s private media to survive because they are dependent on government-issued licenses to do business in the state. Alternatively, the ruling party in Georgia is proposing a somewhat more stringent approach, which may result in private establishments losing their capacity to function lawfully in the long run. Allowing for increased direct government control through the suspension and cancellation of these permissions on an arbitrary basis, allowing for greater direct government control.

In the face of widespread criticism, the Georgian government has remained deafeningly silent, and it has even urged tougher regulations, which has only served to inflame new demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in downtown Tbilisi to express their displeasure with this breakdown of security measures.

The electoral powers currently in place, according to certain members of the media and other political parties opposing the ruling party, are having a severe impact on the integrity of the elections. In the wake of the government’s imposed control over commercial media channels, election results have been distorted in both their coverage and reporting.

Does Private Media Have a Future in Georgia? 

Since the beginning of the country’s history, media has been under the control of the state, and there are some parallels between the way the Georgian government has treated private media ownership in recent years and the way the government has behaved historically in this regard.

Although both the first private television station, which launched in 1999, and the first private radio station, which launched in 2007, are very recent developments, the first private television station and the first private radio station are both quite recent developments. To be sure, the Georgian government has been taking unilateral steps to cement its control over the country’s private media for several years now, and there is no mistake about it.

In Georgia, journalists are fearful that the situation will worsen in the coming year. A journalist who has spoken out in support of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics is Nata Dvalishvili, the director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics.

During her tenure, the media, as well as the general people, has become less free and vocal in general. Following their reporting on corruption within the administration, some journalists have been compelled to flee Georgia as a result of the increasing amount of pressure being applied to them by the government.

It’s clear that a new set of challenges has emerged for private television broadcasters in Georgia, as a result of the recent lawsuit threatening the existence of FormulaTV. It is now unclear how the future of public media will unfold in Georgia but many Georgians believe that Rustavi 2, Formula TV, and other independent media initiatives are being targeted. Without complete freedom of the press, people cannot be sure that they are obtaining reliable information and hearing both sides of the story. 

FormulaTV has been very successful in helping break the monopoly of state-controlled media. They reached a lot of people that before wouldn’t have had a way to access independent news & information. The state of public media in Georgia must be brought to the attention of the world community in order to ensure the long-term viability of free press in Georgia. To be effective, it is crucial to raise important questions about the objectives behind efforts to suppress private media. As a result, if the current situation with FormulaTV is politically motivated in order to silence private media, then the Georgian government should not be allowed to get away with these abuses, and this is a very urgent concern. 

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