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14 Apr, 2008 18:28

Gagged media protests in Georgia

The staff of a small cable station in Georgia gathered in silence outside Parliament on Monday to protest what they call a violation of their freedom of speech. This follows the country's broadcasting authorities’ refusal to renew the channel's licence. T

The controversy centres around three political programmes aired by the station.

Under the terms of its broadcast licence, Maestro is only allowed to show music and entertainment. After the talk shows aired, disciplinary proceedings were begun against the station.

Maestro says it has applied for a new licence, but that the regulators are dragging their feet.

Georgia's broadcasting authorities say it is Maestro who is at fault.

Free media destroyed?

Maestro showed the three offending shows after the events of November last year. Following days of protests, violent clashes erupted between police and demonstrators on November, 7.

It was that day that Georgia 's most popular channel Imedi was raided and closed by special forces.

Opposition leaning Imedi returned to the air in December, only to close again after recordings emerged showing the station's owner, billionaire oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, offering an interior ministry employee 100 million dollars to stage mass unrest.

Following the oligarch's death in February, a bitter ownership dispute engulfed Imedi. It remains off the air. Representatives of Georgia's remaining pro-opposition channels see this all as the government's doing.

“The authorities have done everything possible to destroy Imedi TV. I'm not just talking about the raid on November, 7, but about the processes that followed it. The authorities destroyed Imedi and carry on this process with Maestro,” said Nino Jangirashvili, Head of News programmes on Georgian Kavkasia TV channel.

For their part, the staff of Maestro are determined. On Monday night, Maestro aired a talk show called 'Profession: journalist'. But, in order to sidestep the regulations, it was aired with musical accompaniment, and a superimposed image of a gagged smiley face.