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9 Nov, 2008 10:01

Interview with Giorgy Targamadze

Working in Georgian politics is dangerous, says Giorgy Targamadze, former director of political programmes at the country’s Imedi TV channel. He believes the country has serious problems with democracy.

RT: On November 7, 2007, government troops stormed the station? What happened exactly?

Giorgy Targamadze: That was a very difficult day for all of Georgia and particularly for our TV channel. Throughout the day, we covered what was happening on Rustaveli Square and in other parts of Tbilisi. We were on air the entire day. Prior to that, there was no indication that the situation would get out of hand to such a degree. On the previous day, the numbers of protesters gathered on the square began to dwindle. We even made a decision to stop live broadcasts from Rustaveli Square because there were just a small number of people attending the rally. We thought the protests had run out of steam and would soon be over.
Unfortunately, the next morning, on Nov. 7, the government made a decision to clear the square of the people who were sitting there and had declared a hunger strike. That was when everything started again. We resumed live broadcasts from Rustaveli Square. Throughout the day, Imedi journalists suffered from the government’s aggressive behaviour together with other people. As riot police were breaking up the rally, they yelled at our correspondents and our cameramen, “Now you’ll get what you deserve for what you’ve been doing all these years!”

I was preparing for my own programme. It was a talk show, and we had guests, including six deputies from the Georgian Parliament, who were sitting in my office. I was getting ready for the show in my makeup room with three other guests. That was when we heard someone shout, “They’ve broken in!” That was very difficult to foresee, and that was what we had least expected from the government. After all, if they wanted to stop us from going on air or wanted to suspend our news broadcast, they could have simply introduced a state of emergency across the country, and we would have had to obey according to Georgian law. Anyway, I ran down to the first floor and found armed and masked people.
There were over 200 of them, in full combat gear; I could only see their eyes through the masks. One of them pointed a pistol at me. I stopped and told him I was an executive of the channel. I said none of us were going to put up any resistance; I said there were just journalists and editors, most of them women, in the office. I told them, “Stop scaring people! I’m going to tell everyone to come here so we can talk to someone who can explain to us what is going on.” They wouldn’t listen to me, so I used the pause to run upstairs to the studio and lock the door from inside.
They ran after me, but couldn’t find me. I only had three minutes, which I used to call upon our government and international observers and the Patriarchy of Georgia to do everything to prevent something even worse from happening at Imedi. I couldn’t hear well what was happening in the broadcast studio when they started breaking things there. I heard yells and saw our reporters and employees spread on the floor with armed people standing over them. That was horrible. Nobody had expected that, even after everything that had happened in Georgia that day. 

RT: Why do you think the police chose to behave in that way?

G.T.: They made a lot of mistakes on that day. But their idea, I think, was, all right, we make mistakes, but let’s get rid of all the problems that have accumulated over four years in one day! They thought as long as Imedi continues to go on air, continues with its journalistic mission, they would always have problems.
There were problems with democracy in Georgia, and Imedi was the only TV channel to speak about that. We were the last stronghold of democracy. Of course, our primary goal was to do our job as a TV channel. Imedi wasn’t a political party. But it did air alternative opinions and critical reports. They thought it was very dangerous. And, unfortunately, they made a number of serious mistakes.

RT: What is the situation today with Imedi TV?

G.T.: Currently, Imedi is managed by totally different people. The only thing remaining is the name of the channel and the old layout we made back at the time my friends and I worked there.
Officially, the channel is owned by Joseph Kay, a relative of the late Badri Patarkatsishvili. Patarkatsishvili’s family, particularly his wife, filed a lawsuit trying to regain control over the channel. Unfortunately, as yet Patarkatsishvili’s family has no control over the channel. The channel has joined other Georgian channels in that it works under pressure from the Georgian government.

RT: The official reason given for the death of the former owner of Imedi TV Badri Patarkatsishvili was that he died from a heart attack. Do you buy this?  

G.T.: I knew him personally for four years. He was a pretty young person. Of course, he suffered pretty serious stress during the November events; that was an emotionally exhausting experience. In late November, I had a meeting with him in London. We discussed some health issues, and he told me that just two months earlier he had had a complete checkup in Israel, and the doctors told him he was completely healthy. This is what I personally heard directly from him. Thus, it is very difficult for me to believe the official theory about health problems. Of course, I repeat that I have no reasons not to believe the British police. If the British investigation team finds some facts indicating that there was a different reason for his death, I would take this very seriously.

RT: As someone in the opposition, do you feel safe?

G.T.: It is a universal truth that no one can feel secure in a country which has problems with democracy, problems with justice. You and your supporters may be falsely accused anytime. So, you can’t feel secure. As a leader of a political organization and a minority leader in the parliament, I think I have more leverage to protect myself. I’m a public figure, and whatever I do is closely observed not only by local media but also by international observers and so on. But still, this cannot guarantee my safety.

There are serious problems with democracy in Georgia, and I think what November 7 has revealed to us is that in the long run, no government that came to power by means of a revolution, by overthrowing the previous government, can make a positive contribution to the country’s future.  What we have observed is that the situation with democracy in Georgia became worse over the last four years instead of improving.  So, I think political leaders in Georgia cannot feel safe.