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22 Feb, 2010 05:24

Georgian TV channels turned into presidential mouthpiece

Aggressive efforts have been used by Georgian authorities as part of persistent state manipulation of the news media, according to a recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Natia Mikiashvili, producer of Maestro TV channel, told RT: “I’d say three major channels in the country are controlled by the government… you can tell that even by seeing one journalist working with three microphones.”

Natia used to work for Imedi – one of Georgia’s leading news channels. In 2007, when it was still an independent network, Imedi was subject to a police raid following the massive anti-government protests in the capital, Tbilisi. Today the channel sticks to a firm pro-presidential stance.

Rustavi-2 – another major Georgian network – was once considered the flagship of unbiased news reporting in Georgia. Yet the government now has a firm grip on its editorial content too.

“Today, Rustavi-2 works as a mouthpiece for the government and supports the negative process, the internal and external politics of the government. It's sad to see how journalists become servants to the state,” believes Erosi Kitsmarishvili, former owner of Rustavi-2.

Kitsmarishvili sold his stake in the channel six years ago, reportedly after being forced to do so by government officials.

Today Rustavi-2 is owned by one of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's supporters. All critical coverage has now vanished from its airwaves.

There are also plenty of other news sources in Georgia, as anyone can tell from looking at news stands, with a wide variety of newspapers and magazines available. The catch is – 96% of Georgians get their news from television. And the two channels with the widest audience reach in the country push the government’s viewpoint.

Despite taking a hefty pay cut, and losing the other benefits of working for a large media outlet, Natia Mikiashvili says she has no regrets about leaving Imedi, adding, “The people need independent media. They need to know the truth.”

Right now, Georgia is on a charm offensive to persuade the world that it has wiped out corruption and cleaned up its act.

However, as independent media watchers have now proven, Georgians now have a hard time judging for themselves whether their politicians are clean or not, as their TVs are only able to broadcast what the government wants them to hear.