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19 Aug, 2008 20:34

Tbilisi axes last Russian TV channel

Georgia has pulled the plug on the last Russian-language television channel broadcasting in the country. RTVi was closed after it broadcast an interview with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.

The closure was reported by Russian radio channel, Ekho Moskvy, an affiliate of RTVi. Its Chief Editor, Aleksey Venediktov, said the ban was an attempt by the Georgian government “to conceal the truth from its citizens and to save face”. He said: “only authoritarian and totalitarian leaders are afraid of independent and professional media”.

Commenting on the development, Sergey Lavrov said Tbilisi had planned to shut Russian-language media outlets in advance.

“I heard that the US State Secretary, Ms Condoleezza Rice, said Russia wants to undermine democracy in Georgia, as if there were no facts this year showing there is no true democracy in Georgia. As if the Georgian leadership did not decide, soon after it started its aggression against South Ossetia, to shut down all Russian television channels in Georgia and to cut off access to Russian internet sites.”

The RTVi TV channel was the only one left after Georgia forced all Russian TV channels off air more than a week ago, when fighting broke out.
“But even this channel was shut down after it dared to air my interview with Radio Ekho Moskvy and Vesti 24,” Lavrov said.  

“So, judge for yourself about the situation with democracy in Georgia and who undermines this democracy,” he added.

Ordinary Georgians now only have one source of information on what’s going on inside their country and that’s state-run media.  

The country’s leader has made it clear which audience he’s targeting and which media he trusts the most.  He has appeared almost daily on Western news channels over the past two weeks.  And Georgia’s national TV stations have mirrored their foreign colleagues.   

Saakashvili is seen on Georgia’s national TV via CNN and translated into his native Georgian from English.  Since the offensive was launched, English appears to have become the president’s official language and the key weapon in his own battlefield – the media.