Georgian President meets with TV Iberia employees

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili hosted representatives of Iberia TV today. Photo: Giorgi Margvelashvili official Facebook page, 11 Sep 2018 - 18:17, Tbilisi,Georgia

‘’Free media and business should be protected’’, said Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili at a meeting with the founders and journalists of Iberia TV today.

Giorgi Margvelashvili in details discussed events happening around Iberia TV with owners and journalist of the television channel. Photo: Giorgi Margvelashvili official Facebook page

Not only freedom of speech but also the independence of local business should be guaranteed. Business, not law enforcement, should be the backbone of the country, I am glad that our president shares exactly the same position’’, Iberia TV journalist Luba Eliashvili.

The TV channel is about to stop broadcasting because the financial operations of Omega Group, which owns the television channel, have been frozen.

The owners and journalists of Iberia TV say that the government pressures the channel and creates financial problems for Omega Group in order to restrict their broadcasting.

Employees of Iberia TV  hold protest rally outside the government administration. Photo: David Mchedlidze/RFE/RL

The Ministry of Finances of Georgia claims that Omega Group’s cigarette production company – Omega Group Tobacco (OGT) - has GEL 51.7 million in debt of unpaid taxes. The ministry also stated that the company already asked to postpone the payment 11 times and all their requests were approved by the government.

An audio clip shared by TV channel Rustavi 2 on 9 September contains an alleged phone conversation with former sports minister Levan Kipiani and Omega Group owner Zaza Okuashvili. Kipiani talks about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cousin Ucha Mamatsashvili, who suggested to solve Omega group’s problems with the government and demanded two million dollars for it.

“If the company has financial problems, the owners have to act like other businesses and not abuse their connections with media outlets,” deputy parliament speaker Tamar Chugoshvili about about the matter on September 9.

Ucha Mamatsashvili has also released statements in which denies his relations to the events around Iberia TV and asks the prosecutor's office to immediately start an investigation into this incident.

‘’The current situation indicates an unhealthy media environment in the country. This first of all damages the interests of society, especially in the pre-election period, when citizens are in the process of making important political decisions’’, the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics stated.

The charter also considers it important to investigate whether the authorities are related to this particular recording, as it contains the signs of a crime  and states the need to provide society with transparent information.