07TBILISI3147, GEORGIA MEDIA AND PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN COVERAGE: THE CASE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI3147 2007-12-21 10:34 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7705
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #3147 3551034
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 211034Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8496
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TBILISI 003147 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
FOR EUR/CARC, EUR/PPD AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KPAO GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA MEDIA AND PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN COVERAGE: THE CASE 
OF AJARA 
 
 
1.  (SBU) Summary.  As the election campaign heats up, Embassy 
Tbilisi is reviewing the media coverage of the elections.  Although 
the Autonomous Republic of Ajara remains an opposition stronghold 
according to polls, Ajara media is indirectly controlled by the 
National Movement, and seems to be largely working for the 
re-election of Saakashvili.  End Summary. 
 
2. (SBU) Broadcast media is dominated by the state-run channel, 
Ajara TV, which is overtly controlled by the local authorities 
through their general manager, Tea Tsetskhladze. The only commercial 
TV station, Channel 25, is largely self-censoring and may soon be 
shut down for non-payment of back taxes which the station leadership 
claims is not owed.  The one independent radio station remains off 
the air for technical reasons.  The regional print media is confined 
to two weekly papers, one of which, Batumelebi, is considered the 
best source of credible information for the area; the other paper, 
Batumi, is   considered of marginal importance. 
 
3. (SBU) Ajara TV's general director Tsetskhladze is the former 
press secretary of Levan Varshalomidze, the head of the government 
in the region (and a National Movement member).  She acts to 
strictly control the coverage of the election campaign on Ajara TV 
and Radio in favor of the National Movement.  Opposition parties 
complain that they are ignored by Ajara TV, or that stories about 
them are slanted - thus when the United National Council transferred 
computers from the Batumi City Council to their office, it was 
reported as if the UNC was asking for office space in the Council 
premises.  The campaign law stipulates that bona fide candidates be 
given free advertising and this is being followed, but the 
opposition feels that Saakashvili's campaign is widely and regularly 
reported on by Ajara, while their campaigns are not.  Meanwhile the 
only independent channel, Channel 25, which was quite 
anti-government in the past, and was shut down by the government on 
November 7, now is largely quiet.  While it has no apparent direct 
obligations or links to the government; however, its journalists and 
owners practice extreme self-censorship. This seems to be due to 
avoid being shut down by the authorities over their tax arrears. 
During this pre-election period the Channel will only air one 
political and one analytical talk show (funded by Internews) on 
December 26.  Meanwhile Radio Green Wave - which is viewed as a very 
independent source of news and had broadcast to the entire region - 
is now off the air due to technical reasons. 
 
4. (SBU) When asked about this situation, the National Movement's 
campaign manager for Ajara, Kakha Getsadze, said there was little 
need for media coverage of the election in Ajara.  "The voters are 
well-informed anyway; people have felt the positive changes on their 
own skin.  The presidential campaign has not warmed up yet and, 
correspondingly, the journalists seem to be less active." When asked 
if the National Movement headquarters has a press officer Mr. 
Getsadze responded: "Not important. The journalists can always find 
us easily." 
 
5. (SBU) Comment. While analysts are focusing on the national media 
based in Tbilisi, it is clear that media in the regions, 
particularly the Ajara autonomous region, bears watching.  The lack 
of a fully developed media and self-censorship and economic 
pressures combine to limit true debate and election coverage in 
Ajara.  End Comment. 
 
TEFFT

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