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Conflict Continues At Georgian Opposition TV Station

Georgian opposition figure Eros Kitsmarishvili
Georgian opposition figure Eros Kitsmarishvili
TBILISI -- Regular programming at Tbilisi-based Maestro TV was still disrupted on December 1 due to a standoff between the station's owners and managers, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.

The dispute, which started on November 30, is mainly between Maestro TV's owners and Eros Kitsmarishvili, the founder of the station's managing company.

Station co-owner and producer Mamuka Ghlonti and several staff members have occupied the control room of the station. Kitsmarishvili and a group of security guards are in the rest of the building.

Kitsmarishvili says he dismissed Ghlonti as producer and has also sacked Maestro's general director.

But Ghlonti says Kitsmarishvili does not have the right to fire top managers without prior agreement from the station's other owners.

The staff of the TV station has repeatedly expressed strong disapproval of Kitsmarishvili's actions, and have asked him to leave the building.

The first signs that the standoff might be resolved came on December 1 when the conflicting parties held negotiations and, according to reports, agreed to take their disagreements outside the premises of the TV station. But the dispute continued.

It was also reported that the two sides are considering inviting external mediators, such as Georgia's Young Lawyers Association, to help resolve the conflict.

Tacit Government Backing

Maestro TV -- whose coverage is limited to Tbilisi and, through a cable network, to several other cities -- is widely considered to be one of the few broadcast media outlets that is in opposition to the government, making disruption of its regular broadcasting a source of concern in Georgia's civil society as well as among its audience.

Kitsmarishvili says that the owners of Maestro TV were trying to sideline him from managing the station. He has hinted that the owners were considering a deal with Georgia's richest man, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who recently announced his intention to enter politics and also made public his readiness to buy a television station.

Since the standoff began, Ivanishvili has publicly backed Maestro's journalists and has voiced a theory shared by many others -- that Kitsmarishvili has the government's tacit backing in his actions.

This theory holds that the government is trying to silence one of the two Tbilisi-based TV stations that is openly critical of its actions.

Kitsmarishvili, who in recent years has been an opposition figure, is a former close ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. He used to be an owner of Rustavi-2, a private TV station, whose backing was crucial in bringing Saakashvili to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution.

Since then he spent a few years abroad as a businessman and briefly served as ambassador to Russia before joining the opposition after the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008.

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