U.S. State Department on Rustavi 2 TV

The U.S. is “concerned about any steps that might lead to the closure” of Rustavi 2 TV, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said and also added that in general the U.S. is “encouraged by Georgia’s open environment for media and civil society.”

Asked at a daily press briefing on October 22 about “a lot of pressure by the government” on Rustavi 2 TV, which is in a court battle over ownership dispute, Toner responded: “Of course, we wouldn’t comment on the legal merits of the case against Rustavi 2. We’ll let the legal process play itself out.”

“However, I would just say that the closure or potential closure of a major TV station would shrink the media space in Georgia significantly, and that’s a cause for concern. We take seriously any actions that would give the appearance of compromising media pluralism,” Toner said.

He said that the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi, Ian Kelly, has discussed the issue with the Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

“And we actually commend… [President] Margvelashvili’s call for a calm debate regarding this issue,” Toner said, apparently referring to President’s statement made on October 22 in which he criticized remarks by PM Garibashvili for adding tension to already difficult situation.

“We, the U.S. government, have frequently praised Georgia’s open media environment. It’s been recognized internationally as a model for the region, and we believe that one of a democratic government’s priorities should be the protection of citizens’ liberty, which depends on access to free and unfettered media,” he said.
“So in general, I mean, we’re encouraged by Georgia’s open environment for media and civil society. The government has also enacted many reforms, particularly those that increase checks and balances. And we’re also encouraged by recent legislation regarding the independence and accountability for the prosecutor’s office as well. But as I said, we’re concerned about any steps that might lead to the closure of one of the primary media outlets in – broadcast media outlets in Georgia,” the State Department’s deputy spokesperson said.

U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, also reiterated on October 22 that the U.S. supports media pluralism in Georgia and “our big concern is:  we don’t want to see any restriction of the media space here.”

Asked about statements made by PM Garibashvili and then by President Margvelashvili, the U.S. ambassador told journalists: “I have seen some good comments today, too, calling for a dialogue and calling for calm. We have seen that from President Margvelashvili, we have seen that from other Georgian officials as well, such as the Speaker of Parliament – I think a very good call for a dialogue.”

“In general I think what our friends here in Georgia need is to have a dialogue,” Ambassador Kelly said in Batumi, where he attended a reception on the U.S. warship, USS Porter, which made a port visit to Georgia’s Black Sea port on October 20-23.