For decades, the Georgian government has been adamant about keeping private media out of the country. With the new case of David Kezerashvili, critics are questioning whether the legal lawsuit against Mr. Kezerashvili is simply another attempt by the Georgian government to take over private media enterprises. With Mr. Kezerashvili as the major stakeholder of one of the country’s most powerful private media channels, Formula TV, the concern is justified.
Commenting on the situation, David Kezerashvili said free speech cannot be suppressed. In this article we will take a look at the background to this statement, the motives behind the governments attempt to silence Formula TV and its owner as well as what this mean for media freedom in Georgia.
The Background To The Statement By David Kezerashvili
David Kezerashvili is a former Defence Minister of Georgia and a respected entrepreneur and investor. He served as Georgia’s Defence Minister from 2006 to 2008 as a founding member of the liberal United National Movement. He left his political career in 2008 following Georgia’s defeat in the 2008 South Ossetia war and has since gained respect for his work to help rebuild Georgia’s economy and private sector. Mr. Kezerashvili has established himself as an entrepreneur and investor over the years, focusing on helping the Georgian economy grow stronger & lobbying for foreign high-tech companies to invest in Georgia.
David Kezerashvili has always been a strong advocate for independent journalism and closer ties with the west to strengthen Georgia’s path to democracy. In August of 2019, David Kezerashvili became the majority shareholder of the newly established private media channel Formula TV and stated; “The new television platform will uphold the highest standards of free and impartial journalism” (source).
Two years later, in August of 2021, the Ministry of Defence sued the owner and founder of Formula TV, David Kezerashvili, for actions conducted while he was serving as Defence Minister (2006-2008). Due to the fact that the lawsuit came 2 days before Georgian elections, International experts said they were concerned the lawsuit against Kezerashvili was directed more towards private media coverage during elections and more politically driven than legally warranted.
The legal proceedings received much criticism but it didn’t stop the Supreme Court of Georgia to sentence Mr. Kezerashvili to 5 years in prison for embezzlement. Following the sentence in
September of last year, Kezerashvili released his statement on the matter through Formula News.
In the statement, Kezerashvili alleges the sentence is purely political and is used for blackmail. This sentence has been used to silence him and Formula TV. As a prominent opponent of what he deems to be the government’s significant infringement of free speech, Mr. Kezerashvili emphasized in his statement that “Will you close the Formula? A new Formula will appear in that minute! You cannot suppress free speech!” (source)
Kezerashvili and Formula TV aren’t the only cases
This particular incident in Georgia is but one example in this country’s lengthy history of media meddling. The current lawsuit against David Kezerashvili and the attempt to close FormulaTV is very similar to what happened during the sale of Rustavi 2 TV. This TV station was seized and had one of the directors, Nika Gvaramia, convicted in a similar way to the current attempts to seize Kezerashvili’s station. In 2011, Rustavi 2 was sold to a well-known ally of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili for just $1.
The public’s distrust of the media has increased in recent years, which is why there is pushback against private media regulation.
Private media in Georgia are on thin ice, relying on government-issued licenses to practice. However, the ruling party of Georgia is pushing for a much more restrictive stance that could potentially leave private outlets without their right to practice. Allowing for more direct government control through arbitrary suspensions and revocation of these licenses.
Many journalists and free speech groups criticize these changes as they believe them to be antithetical to the freedom of speech. Some point out the negative effects this could have, such as government censorship and limiting people’s ability to express themselves freely.
Despite the criticism, the government of Georgia was largely unresponsive and has even proposed harsher legislation, which only led to more protests. Tens of thousands of people gathered in downtown Tbilisi to protest this violation
Some people in the media and other parties in opposition to the ruling party think that current election powers are negatively impacting election integrity. The government-imposed control of private media channels has led to biased coverage & reporting of elections.
The Importance Of True Freedom of the Press
Freedom of speech and press are the two essential elements of any democracy. In Georgia, state-owned media has a bigger reach and there are reports of government pressure on private media that chose to air important segments voicing criticism against the ruling party.
The number of independent media outlets broadcasting in the past few years has increased, but the government’s recent response and increasing rhetoric against private media suggest that they may be about to lose their freedom.
Journalists in Georgia believe that the situation is getting worse. One voice among the journalists is that of Nata Dvalishvili, director of The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics.
Her tenure has seen the media become less free and less outspoken overall. The pressure on journalists has increased so much that some have had to flee Georgia after reporting on government corruption.
What Will Happen To Private Media in Georgia?
Media in Georgia has historically been controlled by the state and there are similarities between the way the Georgian government has been treating private media ownership as of late and how they behaved historically.
The first private TV station only opened in 1999, and the first private radio station was founded in 2007. However, it is without doubt that the Georgian government has spent the last several years making unilateral moves to consolidate its control over private media.
Private TV channels in Georgia are now facing a new set of challenges. The country is currently undergoing an important transition, and it is unclear how the future of media will unfold. Public TV channels, which up until now were the only reliable source of information for Georgians, has been taken over by the government and has lost its independence.
The actions against Rustavi 2, Formula TV, and other independent media ventures leave the Georgian people at a disadvantage. Without true freedom of the press, the people cannot be sure that they’re getting reliable information and hearing all sides of the story. To guarantee the future of free press in Georgia the case of David Kezerashvili must get international attention. Critical questions about the motives behind actions against private media must be raised. The current situation against Formula TV is a pressing issue because if it is politically motivated as a way to silence private media then the Georgian government should not be getting away with these injustices.