Judge Orders Rustavi 2 TV’s Chief Executives to Be Replaced

  • Decision allows plaintiff Khalvashi to take over Rustavi 2 management;
  • Gvaramia, Damenia replaced by Sakevarishvili, Dvali in Rustavi 2;

A judge of Tbilisi City Court has ordered as an interim injunction in ownership dispute over Rustavi 2 TV to appoint  temporary administrators replacing broadcaster’s current director general Nika Gvaramia and chief financial officer Kakha Damenia.

The decision means that Kibar Khalvashi, ex-owner of Rustavi 2 TV who tries to reclaim shares in the broadcaster, gains authorization from the court to take over management of the TV channel even though ownership remains under its current shareholders as litigation over ownership dispute has not yet exhausted all the avenues of appeal.

Condemning court’s decision as illegal, Nika Gvaramia said that he is not going to obey the ruling.

“I am not going to leave this building, come and expel me with use of force,” Gvaramia said in a live televised address from Rustavi 2 headquarters after midnight on Friday. “We are not going to leave this TV channel on our own will.”

Rustavi 2 TV supporters and representatives from civil society groups and various opposition parties started gathering outside the broadcaster’s headquarters in Tbilisi shortly after news broke about court’s decision before midnight on Thursday.

The decision on appointing temporary management in the television channel comes two days after the Tbilisi City Court judge Tamaz Urtmelidze ruled on November 3 in favor of Kibar Khalvashi’s lawsuit ordering change of Rustavi 2 TV ownership. The verdict, however, will be appealed by the current majority shareholders of the broadcaster and the decision in favor of Khalvashi cannot be enforced until all the avenues of appeal are exhausted.
The Constitutional Court’s decision on November 2 suspended use of a legal clause which would have allowed Khalvashi to seek an immediate enforcement of the Tbilisi City Court’s ruling even if it was appealed.

But technically this decision by the Constitutional Court did not prevent Khalvashi’s lawyers to seek a temporary remedy in the form of a court injunction requesting for appointing plaintiff’s management in Rustavi 2 TV pending ongoing litigation over ownership dispute.

Khalvashi’s lawyers filed this motion on November 4 and next day the same judge, Tamaz Urtmelidze, ruled in favor of the request without hearing oral arguments of the parties.

Rustavi 2 TV CEO Nika Gvaramia and CFO Kakha Damenia have been replaced by Revaz Sakevarishvili, a former chief executive of Tbilisi-based Imedi TV, and Davit Dvali, co-owner of Rustavi 2 TV up until 2004.

Khalvashi, who claims that he was forced by then leadership of the country to give up his shares in Rustavi 2 TV in 2006, obtained controlling stakes in the broadcasters in 2004 from three of its founders – Davit Dvali, Jarji Akimidze and the late Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who also claimed years later that they were forced to give up their shares in 2004. Dvali and Akimidze voiced their support to Khalvashi’s lawsuit, saying that the process would also help their intention to reclaim shares in the broadcaster.

Khalvashi’s lawsuit is seen by Rustavi 2 TV and many opposition parties and civil society activists as a politically motivated ploy by the government to silence the opposition-minded channel.

Khalvashi’s lawyer, Paata Salia, said that his client, as well as Dvali, Akimidze and Sakevarishvili plan to make a statement on November 6.

According to judge’s order temporary managers of the Rustavi 2 TV, among other executive powers, will also have the right to control broadcaster’s staffing policy and programming, as well as to carry out TV channel’s reorganization.

One of the justifications, cited by judge Urtmelidze behind his decision, points out that “certain danger exists, that failure to appoint temporary management might to a certain extent – or even substantially – affect the format of [Rustavi2] activities, might lead to cancellation and/or modification of several programs, including the most watched ones, and, therefore, there also exists a threat for the attention of the Broadcasting Company Rustavi 2 and its staff to be directed solely towards the coverage of the ongoing [court] dispute” – a reference is made on Rustavi 2 TV’s extensive coverage of its ownership dispute.

“This would not only undermine the ratings of the company and its financial status, but would also create a serious threat for the media to lose its main role and function – protection of public interest,” the judge writes in his decision.

“Under the current management, performing of this duty by the media outlet is seriously questioned,” reads the decision, which then also continues by arguing that media outlets should be providing coverage of all the issues “representing public interest” without being “concentrated only on one issue”.

These lines from the judge’s decision have been condemned by Rustavi 2 TV as an obvious attempt to determine broadcaster’s editorial policy.

Reacting on judge’s ruling in the live televised statement after midnight on Friday, Nika Gvaramia said: “You don’t have to read all of its 17 pages, because the content of this decision can be put in couple of words: dictatorship has been established.”

“Georgia is under the dictatorship of insane Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili,” he said and also suggested that government’s attempt to take over Rustavi 2 TV will have negative consequences on Georgia’s European integration process and for that reason at stake is much more than just ownership of the broadcaster.

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