Is free media facing threat? What is the main problem of Georgian journalism? Why did Shalva Ramishvili associate the being with the Soviet system? These are the topics discussed with Shalva Ramishvili, a journalist.
– Lately, we have often heard uncivilized phrases in terms of journalists from high officials, and even from the President himself. Representatives of media are referred to as “slaves”, “the so called”, or “you poor”…Can we, taking this into account the widely spoken case of photographers and developments in “Media Palitra”, say that it means the beginning of an open attack against journalists?
– Georgian authority is trying to introduce authoritarianism in the country; Imedi and Rustavi2 TV companies resemble televisions not of the Brezhnev period, but those of Central Asian, i.e. TV companies of the countries with the policy of dictation promoting licentiousness. As a rule, 40 minutes are dedicated to the visits of the President to different parts of Georgia. There cannot be found a slight indication of journalistic professionalism in the programs. One gets an impression that these are dithyrambs developed applying the scenes shot by the employees of Misha’s press department.
It is obvious: Misha is fighting with Georgian media. The fact that the Revenue Service suspended the inspection of Media holding “Kviris Palitra” for indefinite period of time, and have not made any kind of decision so far (by the way, the examination continued for three months, and they could not find anything) proves that the authority not only prohibits business companies to place their commercials in some of the media outlets, but it openly fights against the media outlets that do not fall under its control. The Government does not consider sufficient to control strong electronic media; it wants to make small media outlets, the ones that voice positions different from the Government ones, fall under its control too.
– After the photographers’ arrest, many of our colleagues believe that the arrests of Georgian journalists may continue.
– As far as I know, the factor of European and the US colleagues somehow keeps Saakashvili off open repressions; without that he could be much worse. Of course, we cannot always hope that others will help; we should demonstrate our unanimity in case of attack on any media outlet, and not let the officials have what they want.
– When the photographers were arrested the journalists were making announcements that they would not stop their activities, and leave the case in the middle of its development.
– I wish the photographers charged with espionage had not admitted their guilt; however, the fact that they have admitted the guilt and had been released is a real obstacle to proceed with the debates on the issue. All the ways are closed.
A person makes his/her own decision whether to admit the guilt or no; to take what the Government offers or not. I cannot give any recommendations how to behave. I did not admit the guilt, and spent four years in prison despite the fact that I had a chance to be pardoned; however, it does not mean that everybody should behave like me.
-The information disseminated by WikiLeaks states that Saakashvili considers the problem of Georgia to be a low level of professionalism of media and not its freedom.
– True, there are many problems in journalism in Georgia as in many other spheres. Do you think that the Ministers have high level of professionalism? There are many factors affecting Georgian media professionalism, including lack of opportunity of receiving good education; timespan for receiving information on the achievements of thinking and cogitation or technical progress is very long. However, if Saakashvili does not like the media purview he should facilitate competitive environment among TV and radio companies because if the existing situation continues, journalism may find itself facing big problems.
Media freedom is more problematic in Georgia than its professionalism. The Government does everything to limit media freedom, which, of course, has negative impact on the competence of journalists as well as on the quality of democracy, generally.
– Recently, in your article, called “New Communists”, published in the “Kviris Palitra”, you wrote: “More and more I suspect that the communists have not gone anywhere, they are here! They are looking at me, mocking from color facades, shaking their hands from dancing fantans”. Why do you have an association with the Soviet period?
– When I watch permanent celebrations, openings of new bridges, hotels, and factories I feel I go back to my childhood.
We are not witnessing mass arrests of people so far; however, the fact the Government carries out very strict control of every sphere, has usurped legislative, executive, and court systems, and even media is obvious to anybody who wants to see something.
– Recently you wrote on your Facebook that if an articles or TV programs of a journalist does not have some impact and influence, if something does not change as a result of such activities the journalist starts to look like a women who makes passes to her image in the mirror…when government representatives say that they do not read press, it means that all the doors are closed for journalists. We watched a little incident in your program: representatives of the National Party did not open the door of their office when you came there; what should journalists do?
– We should do our job. Just try that our efforts are recurrent, and try to go to the end. Journalist should write, show, and make others see what is going on in reality. They should show how the Government officials do not want to talk with journalists.
Of course, you cannot be happy and content with your work when you see that your writing does not influence or make changes in the society. However, I do not think that our efforts do not change public opinion. The point is that the Government does not take into consideration the public opinion.
– You are often reminded that you take bribes…
– I always say that I do not take bribes; I am an extorter. I do not have any desire to prove my innocence to those people. I have not committed any criminal crime. Everything has its time, and when Strasbourg Court makes its judgment I will prove my truth. However, I served my sentence, and do not owe anything to anyone. Respectively, I understand the above comments as the attempts to ignore very competent questions. Do you think that an answer like “I won’t answer your question because you were in prison” can be considered as an answer?
– Tbilisi forum is discussing whether Shalva Ramishvili is dangerous or not. What do you think? Are you dangerous?
– It is much exaggerated, I would say.
– When your program “Without Accreditation” was first aired, you stated that the goal of the program was to make the society “look into mirror” and see the reality. Has the program achieved its goal?
– The goal was to make people see the extent of idiotism the bureaucracy of the Government can reach when high officials cannot make any decision without permission and exact instructions how to answer very simple questions. I made everybody see the fear existing among our people, laziness and lack of talent of some of our opposition leaders, etc.,
– How does the conflict among Maestro TV company owners influence the work of the company?
– I am not an employee of Maestro TV Company; however, I know the situation within the company quite well; it has not affected the TV Company. I can openly state that no members of any political party influence Maestro presently.
Maestro TV company is Ltd, and its members can sell their shares, or give the share to anybody as a gift. However, if whoever new comes and starts trying to limit the journalists the company will lose its present charm, and will become somebody’s “pocket TV Company”.
– Autumn, much spoken by opposition leaders, has come; however, nothing has changed.
-The march has been planned by “National Forum”.
– Do you think the opposition has started its actions?
– I would say that each party has begun preparation for 2012 elections. I do not know whether the preparatory period will necessarily include demonstrations or manifestations; however, I think that 2012 elections won’t be as calm as in the past. Many political forces spend their energy, financial resources, and time to win the Parliament seats.
P.S. The interview was ready to print when we heard that Shalva Ramishvili was arrested in Kvareli, in the President’s vine-yard when he was preparing his program “Without Accreditation”. We contacted the journalist:
– Shalva, what was the reason of your arrest? Have you violated the law?
– We arrived in Kvareli to shoot Saakashvili’s house and his vine-yards. Misha’s patrimony does not have either a fence or a gate, or some warning signboard. Nobody told us that we could not shoot. Tell you the truth I was not sure that it was Saakashvili’s house. I, together with the crew, entered the territory, marani (wine storing space), and rooms. A guy came (as we found later, it was Temur Gurashvili, Head of Kvareli Police) who was pushing us trying to make us vacate the building. He did not identify himself. He was not in the uniform, and did not show any ID. Then some plain-clothed people stuffed us into the cars, without any explanations, and kidnapped us. They ordered to push us out of the territory and take the shot materials away since Misha was coming.
– Where did they take you? Did they treat you well?
– Initially, they were very aggressive. Later they guessed it was useless. After driving two kilometers, they let us get off the car, and assigned two policemen to follow us. I asked them who they were, but they would shrug their shoulders, not telling us either their names or positions; they insisted on being ordinary citizens.
– Have they given you the devices and your technique back?
– No. They have not given back either the chips where we had all the materials we shot or our microphone.