In the latest episode in Georgia’s battle-for-TV drama: the opposition-minded television station Maestro is handing out thousands of satellite dishes to households; a move that could weaken the government-leaning channels’ dominance on national airwaves. The government strikes back by impounding the antennas. Critics accuse the authorities of being control freaks; the government accuses Maestro of being Ivanishvili's tool for vote bribery.
In our previous episode: Global TV, a cable and satellite television carrier partly owned by Ivanishvili’s brother, Alexander, distributed tens of thousands of satellite dishes. The authorities seized the antennas and a court landed a multi-million-lari fine on Ivanishvili for alleged voter bribery.
Granted, this drama might seem like a rerun. Back in 2007, amidst clashes with Tbilisi protesters, police stormed the premises of Imedi TV, a popular national broadcaster then owned by Misha critic Badri Patarkatsishvili, and pulled the plug on the station's programs, claiming they were meant to stir up revolt. Imedi, which has since changed hands, never played the big time for critical news again.
Like Patarkatsishvili, Ivanishvili, who also made his fortune in Russia, has been trying to find a way to change the national news narrative and get more viewers for his own story of alleged high-level government corruption and poor economic stewardship.
But, for now, the government is holding fast to the national remote control.
The show never changes -- Ivanishvili, as Kremlin crony, attempting to stir up unrest and/or buy the country.
(Georgian speakers can compare and contrast pro-government Rustavi2 and pro-Ivanishvili TV9's coverage of a July 12 rock fight between Ivanishvili opponents and supporters, including soccer star Kakha Kaladze, a
onetime Milan defender who now defends Ivanishvili's Georgian
Journalists themselves have become unfortunate pawns in this mega-battle, with reporters from competing television stations literally crossing microphones as they exchange verbal abuse.
As the tug-of-war over satellite dishes suggests, the media fights are likely to only get nastier as election day nears. Anyone hoping for civilized political competition and fair media coverage, don’t get your expectations too high.