The Georgian Public Broadcaster remains a victim of political games. On Monday the GPB’s Board of Directors fired Giorgi Baratashvili, the broadcaster’s executive director, whom it had only appointed in late December.
In a statement on March 4, the Board stated that it was “inadmissible to interpret today’s decision as an attempt to meddle into personnel issues.” However, it appears that Baratashvili firing was closely linked to a staffing decision he had made a few days earlier.
On Friday, Baratashvili fired Khatuna Berdzenishvili, the head of the GPB’s newsroom. Her critics have accused Berzenishvili of having been a gatekeeper for many years, mandating an editorial line supportive of the United National Movement.
After her dismissal, Berdzenishvili alleged that Baratashvili had offered to pay her in order to stop the airing of reports critical of the government and that her firing was politically motivated. She said that she would not give up her position and appealed to the GPB’s Board to discuss the case.
Now, the Board has stepped in, declared its distrust of the director – a step which requires a two-thirds majority – and fired Baratashvili. In its decision, the Board argued that it had heard both sides (as required by law) and that it was fulfilling its role in protecting the GPB from political interference and reputational damage and that the public discussions over Berdzenisvhili had “harmed the broadcaster and its internal stability”. However, numerous members of the Board are perceived as being politically affiliated with the United National Movement. Its step to fire Berdzenishvili thus has a strong political flavor.
Baratashvili, who was in Montenegro at the time he was fired, called the Board’s decisionunfair and said that his firing was motivated by his staffing decisions. He stated that nobody from the Board had contacted him and that he only learned about his dismissal from other individuals and said that he was going to appeal his firing in court.
After all these political games, what the GPB really needs is a leadership – Board members, executive director and top-level management – that is truly committed to building a strong, professional and independent broadcaster that pursues a mission of public service.
In a polarized society and a media environment that is dominated by a few large private television stations that are owned by individuals that often have political agendas, the GPB has an evermore important role to provide fora for discussions and for informing and shaping public debates by providing relevant, fair, professional and impartial news and analysis, as well as high-quality educational and entertainment programs.
The GPB needs to become more relevant in people’s life, and it will only achieve that mission if it becomes a station catering to the the public, not to politics. For too long, it has focused on television as its main platform, largely ignoring its radio and online activities. Finally, the GPB needs to address years of financial mismanagement and clean house, so that it can focus on its mission.
The Board has already announced a call for applications for the next general director (deadline: March 14th). Turing the GPB around will be an extremely challenging task. Politics needs to allow the best possible candidates who have the necessary skills and experience, rather than protegees and loyalists, to take on this challenge.
The information was first published on the website of International Transparency Georgia