Statement of non-governmental organizations about Developments in Maestro TV Company

We issue this statement to express our position about ongoing developments in Maestro TV Company, raising questions about editorial independence of the channel and professional freedom of journalists, and violating labor rights of Maestro TV employees guaranteed by Georgian law. 

It has become known to the public that over the past few months leading journalists have quit Maestro TV, saying that their decision was motivated by an attempt of the owner of the TV channel to interfere in journalistic reporting on Maestro TV. 
A group of 20 journalists, including news anchor Nino Tolordava and a team of comedy program “Everyday Pills” all quit the company after firing of Nino Zhizhilashvili, anchor of Tskhriani news program and the head of Maestro TV’s newsroom. Representatives of the company however have rejected the allegations and have stated that the recent developments have been the result of reorganization at the TV channel. 

Nino Zhizhilashvili says that she had already decided to quit her job at Maestro TV anyway after Kote Gogelia, actual owner of Maestro TV announced his decision to change things at the channel and cancel Tskhriani news program. Tskhriani will reportedly be replaced by a new TV program titled Tbilisi Talks hosted by Koka Kandiashvili, who is currently holding the position of PR consultant of the Government of Georgia Chancellery. Kandiashvili made only general comments. News reporters, including Nino Zhizhilashvili criticized the decision. As a result, Kote Gogelia fired the latter. 

This is not the first highly publicized case of journalists quitting Maestro TV. Vakho Zanaia, leading journalist quit the channel in September. Yesterday he made first public statement explaining his decision, alleging that Maestro TV’s management was concerned about his programs criticizing the government. He stated: “the director said that my program may incite a serious conflict between Maestro TV and the authorities and create problems. In October 2014, Diana Trapaidze and Teona Gogelia, talk show co-hosts also quit Maestro TV. They have made the decision after their meeting with Kote Gogelia. This was preceded by Mamuka Ghlonti’s statement in early 2013 about launch of a “fight without rules” by a group of government representatives against Maestro.     

According to journalists who have already quit Maestro TV, the actual owner of the channel Kote Gogelia intensively intervenes in editorial activities of the Channel, which contradicts editorial independence of the broadcaster and public accountability principles established by Law. Regrettably management of the TV company fails to protect its employees or their editorial independence.  

As alleged by Nino Zhizhilashvili, employees of the TV Company in charge of programming decisions were not involved in the process while Koka Kandiashvili, an outside person and a PR consultant of the government of Georgia is personally involved in programming. We believe that such conduct violates the principles of freedom of journalistic reporting, especially in light of journalists’ accusations about owners of the TV Company trying to remain on the good side of the government. 

Notably, recent changes in the television company have been carried out with gross violation of journalists’ labor rights. Journalists are often taken by surprise by these changes, including termination of labor contracts. Such attitude of employer may have a negative impact on other journalists who are keeping their jobs at Maestro TV and curtail their professional freedom and independence.  

Obligation to observe freedom of media and editorial independence rests on the owner and management of the Channel along with the state authorities. We urge relevant individuals to respect the forgoing principles and act in abidance with these principles and Georgian legislation.  

Transparency International Georgia (TI) 
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) 
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) 
Civil Development Agency (CIDA) 
Economic and Political Research Center (EPRC)