08TBILISI957, PUBLIC BROADCASTING AGAIN SERVES AS OPPOSITION BATTLEGROUND

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI957 2008-06-06 14:27 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXYZ0005
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSI #0957/01 1581427
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 061427Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9593
INFO RUEHYE/AMEMBASSY YEREVAN 2290
RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 1987
RUEHKV/AMEMBASSY KIEV
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8160

UNCLAS TBILISI 000957 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR EUR/PPD, EUR/CARC, AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM KPAO GG
SUBJECT: PUBLIC BROADCASTING AGAIN SERVES AS OPPOSITION BATTLEGROUND 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: On May 27 leaders of the United Opposition (UNC) 
accompanied by a large contingent of reporters stormed the board of 
the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and the office of the 
Director.  They presented conflicting sets of demands to the Board, 
the Director, and in a following press conference. Finally on June 
2, 2008, the board of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) met the 
United Opposition Council's (UNC) demands to air video footage 
showing alleged cases of irregularities during the May 21 
parliamentary election, devote one hour of live airtime to the 
opposition three times a week, and cooperate with a monitoring 
group. End summary. 
 
2. (SBU) On May 27, the UNC staged a rally outside the GPB premises. 
After making speeches at the rally, several opposition leaders went 
inside the building and marched into GPB General Director Levan 
Kubaneishvili's office unannounced and accused him of fulfilling 
marching orders from the authorities. 
 
3. (SBU) Chief correspondent of the Reuter's Caucasus Bureau Maka 
Antidze was among the journalists who witnessed the protest both 
outside and inside GPB building.  "Salome Zourabichvili was 
screaming at the top of her voice in Levan Kubaneisbvili's office 
demanding live broadcasts for the opposition and complaining about 
the Georgian Public Broadcaster not having aired live the [six hour 
long] opposition rally on May 26," She told PAS privately.   She 
also said: "The memory of the Rose Revolution and the role Rustavi-2 
played by airing live the protest rally in a non-stop mode is still 
fresh.  No-one cared about professional journalistic standards. It 
was a bad precedent. This is why the opposition is so keen on airing 
the rallies live.  They think it'll work again to bring them to 
power - nonsense." 
 
4. (SBU) General Director Levan Kubanesivili refuted the 
opposition's claims in front of the cameras gathered in his office. 
He called for "toning down rhetoric."  He also told opposition 
leaders that GPB allowed 39 minutes to the opposition's protest 
rally on May 26.  PAS received from GPB a DVD footage of May 26 
hourly newscasts.  Each newscast opened with brief live reports from 
the rally site bringing an update to the viewers.   When Salome 
Zourabishvili (of the United Opposition) claimed on GPB's Dgis 
Commentary on May 28 that there was insufficient coverage of the 
rally the host refuted her claim and showed excerpts of the 42 
minutes of coverage the rally received.  When faced with this 
evidence Zourabishvili walked off the set. 
 
5. (SBU) The GPB board currently has eight instead of nine members 
after Irakli Tripolski, the chairman of the board resigned on May 27 
because of alleged unfair coverage of the May 26 opposition protest 
rally. (Mr. Tripolski later changed his mind and decided to stay 
only if the board's authority would increase.  On May 30 he changed 
his mind again and gave his resignation notice to the board.  The 
opposition welcomed his decision, though the Republican Party called 
on him to stay on the board). 
 
6. (SBU) Irma Sokhadze, a board member defending the opposition's 
interests does not approve of the Chairman's decision to resign. She 
thinks the station's programming is improving step by step and will 
continue so.  She says the pre-election campaign was covered in as 
balanced a way as possible; however, she shares the opposition's 
complaint about insufficient airtime devoted to May 26 protest 
rally.  "Between 10:00 a.m. and 12 p.m. we did not have any protest 
footage on the air," Irma Sokhadze told PAS in a private 
conversation.  She also said she was not happy with the "imperative 
tone" certain opposition leaders used with the board. 
 
7. (SBU) According to the Law on Broadcasting, the President will 
nominate the candidates for the parliament to approve the ninth 
member of the board. After that, the board will elect the chairman. 
Until then, the board remains with five government and three 
opposition candidates. 
 
8. (SBU) OSCE/ODIHR-led international observation mission said in 
its preliminary report that most media outlets remain under strong 
influence from their owners and political patrons despite 
pluralistic media environment.  GPB got the highest marks for 
fairness in reporting.  The report also said that during last six 
weeks of the election campaign, GPB devoted similar time to the 
opposition (18%) and the ruling party (17%). GPB was still 
criticized for giving positive coverage to the ruling party while 
mainly neutral coverage to the UNC. 
 
9. (SBU) Mamuka Pachuashvili, a GPB board member told PAS the UNC 
members had not submitted their finalized demands officially yet to 
the GPB board.  Nevertheless, the board accepted the opposition's 
demands: a. To air the footage of alleged violations recorded on a 
mobile phone.  b. To have opposition members
on three-times weekly 
live political show Dgis Commentary (Comment of the Day) instead of 
the opposition's announcement to get one hour live airtime three 
times a week; and c. To cooperate with a monitoring group comprising 
a wide range of different civil society, media, academia and 
think-tank representatives, instead of the opposition's prior demand 
to set up an oversight body over the channel's news programs."  Mr. 
Pachuiashvili thinks there's nothing new in this agreement as the 
GPB has always been responsive to general public's demands. 
 
10. (SBU) Comment. Many observers think this fuss is over nothing as 
GPB's ratings are not high.  The opposition gained public attention 
by storming GPB in January and demanding the resignation of the 
earlier board and Director.  It appears that their attempt to 
rekindle public interest in the opposition cause through another 
visit to GPB has largely backfired at this point.  The good news is 
that GPB is further committed to providing a fair platform to all 
parties and is increasingly seen as the most neutral forum.  End 
Comment. 
 
TEFFT

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