Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) responds to the ongoing events in the Adjara Public Broadcaster and observes that regardless of the critical pandemic and social conditions and declared emergencies, the persecution practice of critical journalists in the Broadcaster continues. 

On 23rd of March, 2020, the director of Adjara Broadcaster restricted the work of News journalist Teona Kharabadze and without any reasoning, transferred her to Kutaisi for work. In the period, when the Parliament was functioning in Kutaisi, Teona was working as a parliamentary correspondent. However, after the relocation of the Parliament to Tbilisi, her working location also changed in practice and during the last year, she was actively working in Batumi. Without any real need or reasoning, her transfer to Kutaisi is an unreasonable and arbitrary decision. It has to be noted, that the Broadcasting management has not even appointed an operator for Teona Kharabadze and assigned her to work only for Radio and Web-site specificity. According to the Labor Code, the determination of the working place is a substantial part of the labor agreement. The amendment of substantial provisions is permitted only with the consent of agreement parties. In this case, amendments in the substantial provision of the Labor Agreement was conducted without Teona’s consent. In such conditions, it is obvious, that management’s decision concerning Teona Kharabadze, who is also a member of an alternative professional union and criticizes the arbitrary decisions of new management, aimed to influence and punish her.

Also, on the 23rd of March, the management closed the TV program Hashtag for an indefinite period, which was particularly critical, progressive program oriented on social issues. The management justified the closure of the program with the risks of epidemy and emergency working regime existing in the broadcaster. However, bearing in mind the online working format of this specific program and its content, director aimed to close the exceptionally critical program. Notably, the team members of this TV program were also active members of an Alternative Professional Union and leaders of the ongoing pre-strike process. The new director unreasonably stated to the director of professional union and Hashtag anchor that these two positions were incompatible and they were not allowed to work in this TV program.  

According to our information, the new director commenced disciplinary proceedings against several more employees.

Remind that, during the last two months, new management has dismissed most of the key staff members in the News section, or arbitrarily transferred them to other positions. On the 2nd of February, 2020, due to the restricted contractual power, harassment and control in the working environment, Natia Zoidze, Deputy Broadcasting Director, was forced to leave the organization. On the 19th  of February, 2020, with futile reorganization process, Maia Merkviladze was transferred to the Radio Broadcasting Service with a discretionary and arbitrary decision from the position of Deputy Chief of the News Service editorial direction. On 28th  of February, 2020, the Chief of News Service Shorena Ghlonti, was dismissed after the arbitrary and ungrounded disciplinary procedure. On the 6th of March, 2020, with obvious violation of disciplinary proceedings and rules, the Director temporarily limited the contractual powers of Teona Bakuridze, the anchor of chief information program and dismissed her from the air. On the 13th of March, without proper procedure and reasoning, she was dismissed from work

Apparently, the chain of decisions received by the new management in the last two months, the persecution of critical journalists and employees, reveals the risks of interference in the Broadcaster’s editorial independence and control. This requires an immediate reaction from the High Council of Adjara and Parliament.[1] The decisions made by the new management demonstrates not only the violation of the labor rights of specific employees and journalists but also clearly indicates the violation of freedom of expression and Broadcaster’s independence. 

 

Considering the created alarming situation in Adjara Broadcaster, EMC urges: 

  • Advisory Board of Adjara Public Broadcaster – get interested in the critical situation created in the broadcaster, take immediate measures to cease the illegal, arbitrary and discriminative measures taken by the new director and study his political responsibility issue. 
  • Adjara High Council - schedule special hearing concerning the difficult developments in Adjara Public Broadcaster and examine the compliance of the Advisory Board activities, elected by itself, with the principles and requirements of the Broadcasting Law and their political responsibility issue;
  • Parliament of Georgia – get interested in the ongoing processes in the Broadcaster and use all relevant measures of parliamentary control and public political hearing to respond to the  hard situation in terms of media freedom and freedom of expression. 

Footnote and Bibliography

[1]  Public organizations collectively address to the international organizations concerning the alarming processes ongoing in Adjara Public Broadcaster, available at https://emc.org.ge/ka/products/sazogadoebrivi-organizatsiebi-acharis-mautsqebelshi-mimdinare-sagangasho-protsesebze-saertashoriso-organizatsiebs-kolektiurad-mimartaven