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8 May, 2009 07:37

Hands of censorship choke Georgia’s TV сhannel

Georgia’s opposition has set up camp outside the Imedi TV station calling for attention to biased media coverage. In addition, they are threatening to block roads if Saakashvili doesn’t agree to talks in the next 3 days.

The opposition has been staging protests in the capital Tbilisi for a month. Earlier this week, around 60 people were wounded in clashes with police.

For most of his life, news editor Tengiz Mezurnishvili has been writing news. But this week he’s making the headlines in the biggest story of his career. Eight days ago he accused his bosses of Imedi TV of censorship. Their response was to shut him up.

“I’m not surprised they fired me, and they did it without giving any official reason. My crime was to write a letter to management complaining that we’re not allowed to speak out against the government. I can’t say for sure it was the government that organized for me to be fired, but the fact that I was fired shows something suspicious is going on,” says Mr. Mezurnishvili.

63 other Imedi employees put their names to his petition as they accuse the station of biased coverage. They say they were banned from interviewing opposition politicians who were not in parliament, and anti-government experts.

After five years of working with Imedi TV, producer Ana Gochashvili is now looking for a job. She walked out after signing the petition, saying she had no choice but to quit.

“It’s become unbearable to work there. When the right owner comes, the censorship will stop. But for now, it’s impossible to work freely,” says Ana Gochashvili.

When Ana first joined Imedi in 2005, it a was private television station owned by the late Georgian media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. But two years later, riot police closed it down after it aired views by opposition leaders and broadcast footage of police breaking up anti-government protests. Today it’s widely seen as being a government channel

But on the streets, the public refuses to go quietly until late at night. For two weeks already, opposition demonstrators have closed off downtown Tbilisi. Just a few days ago, a popular television personality Georgy Gachechiladze was beaten up. He hosts a show called “Cell number five” in which he sits in a jail and interviews guests. Protestors on the streets have made improvised cells, and say they’ll sit in these cells until president Saakashvilli resigns.

Khatia Alpaidze is studying for her masters degree in journalism, and the media clampdown has inspired her even more to become a journalist.

“If journalists want to survive in Georgia, they must deny themselves freedom of speech and not say the truth. I dream of being among those few who objectively deliver the important and necessary infomation to the people, especially nowadays when objective information is valued and most needed,” says the young journalist.

Malkhaz Gulashvili edits an opposition paper, the Georgian Times. He accuses Saakashvilli of using the free press to get into power, and then doing everything he can to close it down.

“There is a lot of pressure on us. Financial police entered my office after we published an article critical of the city’s main prosecutor. We managed to continue working because of international support, but the situation is really bad,” says Gulashvili.

President Saakashvilli has his hands full with trying to stay in power, which concerns many in his country that he might clamp down even harder on his country's media.