The Supreme Court of Georgia, the country’s highest court of appeal, ruled on March 2 against the current owners of Rustavi 2 TV, the country’s most-watched private television broadcaster, granting the ownership rights to Kibar Khalvashi, who co-owned the channel a decade ago and whose claims many see as orchestrated by the government to silence the opposition-leaning media.
The Supreme Court’s decision was met with wide international reaction.
United States Embassy in Tbilisi
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement late night on March 2 saying that the U.S. “views with concern the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Rustavi 2, which could effectively limit the access of opposition voices to Georgian broadcast media.”
“A pluralistic media environment is essential for Georgia’s democratic growth and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We urge the Georgian government to take steps to ensure that the media environment remains free, open, and pluralistic,” the Embassy also said.
Delegation of the European Union to Georgia
The EU Delegation took a more reserved line in its March 3 statement, saying that it “has been monitoring” the Rustavi 2 court case from the beginning and “will examine” the Supreme Court’s verdict, “as well as its consequences.” At the same time, the statement added, the EU Delegation will keep to its “long-standing practice of not commenting on individual court decisions.”
“For years, the European Union has been working with the Georgian authorities to implement the reform of the judiciary, with a focus on the independence, transparency and quality of judicial procedures, indispensable for upholding the rule of law,” the statement added.
“We reiterate the need for protecting political pluralism, freedom of media and access to diverse views. In the present stage, this remains fundamental for the preservation and consolidation of democracy, corresponding to essential commitments contained in the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union,” the EU Delegation also said.
French Embassy in Tbilisi
The Embassy of France to Georgia said on March 3 that it is “closely following” the developments around Rustavi 2, Georgia’s “major opposition” media outlet.
“France reiterates its commitment for respecting the press freedom, which contributes to the society’s democratic development,” the Embassy noted.
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović called on the Georgian authorities to ensure media independence and pluralism.
Dunja Mijatović issued a statement on March 3 saying that “possible attempts to influence the editorial policy of Rustavi 2, a major independent media outlet, would seriously undermine the pluralistic media environment.”
“The channel must continue to enjoy full independence and fulfil its professional activity in the public interest,” Mijatović added.
In her Twitter post on March 2, OSCE media freedom representative expressed “disappointment” over the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Disappointing move and huge blow to media pluralism in Georgia,” Dunja Mijatović stated.
— Dunja Mijatovic (@Dunja_Mijatovic) March 2, 2017
European People’s Party
“Rustavi 2 TV case is a test for Georgian democracy. The people of Georgia might be deprived from the only independent source of information,” President of the European People’s Party Joseph Daul wrote in his Twitter post on March 2.
— Joseph Daul (@JosephDaul) March 3, 2017
“Deeply concerned by the recent takeover of Rustavi 2 TV, the only independent TV channel in Georgia. A blow to freedom of press and democracy,” Joseph Daul also stated.
— Joseph Daul (@JosephDaul) March 3, 2017
Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who is the Deputy President of EPP group in the European Parliament, stated that the decision was “expected,” and that the Georgian Government waited to take over the country’s “last independent” TV station until it got visa-free “from naive EU.”
— Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) March 2, 2017
MEP Gunnar Hökmark expressed regret and serious concern over the decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia.
”The decision taken by the Supreme Court today is regrettable, and pose a serious threat to media plurality, editorial independence and transparent media in Georgia. Rustavi 2 must stay independent, and I call on the Georgian Constitutional Court to look into the proceedings of the case and allegations of Government pressure on judges of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament
Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament expressed “extreme concern” over the Supreme Court’s decision “to grant ownership of Rustavi 2, Georgia’s most popular TV station and the only large media with clearly pro-western editorial policy, to a proxy of the Georgian Government.”
“The ALDE Group in the European Parliament urges the Georgian government to ensure a free, open and pluralistic media environment in the country and to remain committed to the European values promoted through the Eastern Partnership,” the statement said.
“The ownership of the Rustavi2 TV station has been specifically granted to Kibar Khalvashi, a brother of a Georgian Dream MP and proxy of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who retains control over the decision-making of the Government,” the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats added.
The statement also quoted Spanish MEP Javier Nart, a shadow rapporteur on Georgia, who said that the Supreme Court decision “shuts the door on a free press.”
“Democracy in Georgia is threatened due to the political, economic and now media hegemony of one person, who, in consequence, controls the Government, the economy and now the public opinion,” he noted.
There is no democracy without free public opinion, and the elections thus become a mere theatre stage. Georgia is Europe, and Europe is liberty and democracy. I join in solidarity with the Georgian people and the Rustavi 2 journalists,” he also said.