24 July 1996

Alert

Independent television station Rustavi-2 forced off the air




According to local journalists, on 17 July 1996, Rustavi-2, the
leading independent television station in Tbilisi, with an
audience of more than one million viewers, was forced off the air
by the Georgian Ministry of Communications. Authorities claimed
afterwards that the commercial charter of Gamma Plus Agency Ltd.,
the parent company of Rustavi-2 in Tbilisi, does not authorise it
to broadcast on a television frequency.




Gamma Plus Agency Ltd. was granted its first broadcasting licence
from the Ministry of Communications on 16 June 1994. On 12
February 1996, Gamma Plus Agency Ltd. was granted permission from
the Ministry to broadcast on VHF Channel 12 in the city of
Tbilisi for a three-year period and, starting 19 June, went on
the air with an 8-hour broadcasting cycle.
Nearly a year ago, a similar dispute arose regarding the same
licensing issue. That case was settled out of court after a
month-long legal battle in which a Tbilisi municipal judge
declared that the station had not violated telecommunications
regulations.
Independent observers are concerned that the sudden revocation of
the licence despite the 1995 court ruling is designed to pressure
independent broadcasters. Furthermore, the immediate transfer of
the rights to Channel 12 to a competing station, NPL Studio, that
was founded by figures close to the government, suggests that
there may have been political motivations involved in the
revocation of the licence. Official reports indicate that a
senior official close to President Eduard Shevardnaze may have
used the power of office to close Rustavi-2. This official was
originally involved in helping Rustavi-2 to obtain its licence
but then became a founder of its competitor station after his
business relations with Rustavi-2 broke down. Independent
observers are also concerned that the station's coverage of
controversial political, ethnic, and organised crime stories may
have been a factor in the manoeuvring to withdraw its licence.
Rustavi-2 is one of 12 members of the Television Network of
Georgia, a confederation of independent stations that airs a
weekly national news program, and an affiliate of the Independent
Broadcasting System in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Recommended Action


Send appeals to authorities:

  • urging them to investigate the shut down of Rustavi-2 and to
    make public their findings
  • calling on them to seek a temporary restraining order so that
    Rustavi-2 may continue its daily broadcasts unhindered until the
    matter is examined through due process in a court of law
  • urging that, since Rustavi-2 has claimed repeatedly that it met
    all licensing requirements, it be given every opportunity to take
    action in order to comply with the law





    Appeals To



    His Excellency Eduard Shevardnaze
    President
    Tbilisi
    Republic of Georgia
    Fax: +99 532 99 92 00




    Mr Vakhtang Abashidze
    Press Secretary
    Office of the President
    E-mail: meta@iberiapac.ge






    Please copy appeals to the originator if possible.






  • Source

    Committee to Protect Journalists
    330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
    New York, NY 10001
    USA
    info (@) cpj.org
    Fax:+1 212 4659568
    Georgia
     
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