Pro-government Georgian TV channel merges with anti-Western group Popular Force

A television station dedicated to “exposing” and criticizing the Georgian government’s liberal opposition has announced that it will become the media arm of Popular Force, a spin-off group from Georgian Dream dedicated to criticizing Georgia’s western partners.

Tuesday, POSTV announcement that, in keeping with their previous “ideological platform”, they had become a media platform for Popular Force.

The channel, which has previously been accused of supporting pro-Kremlin and far-right groups and engaging in covert social media campaigns to influence the election, announced its alliance with the anti-Western group just as Popular Force announced that it had more than doubled its membership. .

“We believe their stated mission – to better inform the people of Georgia in this complex and unstable geopolitical situation – aligns with the idea behind the creation of our channel.”

Popular Force is a parliamentary group that emerged in July, founded by three MPs who claimed to have “left” the ruling Georgian Dream party to speak “more openly” about alleged attempts by Ukrainian and Western officials and groups of local opposition to push Georgia into war with Russia.

Following the group’s allegations against US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan, the US State Department released a statement damn “personal attacks” against the ambassador by representatives of the Georgian government.

The following month, the Popular Front accused the United States, without proof, of having attempted a coup in Georgia and claims that the country was responsible for almost every major controversy that took place during Georgian Dream’s reign.

One of the Popular Force leaders, Sozar Subari (center), previously served as Georgia’s public defender (2004-2009). Until mid-2020, he held various senior positions in the government led by Georgian Dream. Image via Kavkasia.

While initially claiming to have left the ruling party, the Popular Force deputies, who now number nine, have not abandoned the formation of the parliamentary majority, and continue to support the government in parliament. Had they done so, Georgian Dream would have lost its majority, leaving them with just 75 MPs. This is one of many factors that have called into question their distance and difference from the ruling party.

Georgian Dream has also repeatedly stated that it has no substantive or “values-based” differences with Popular Force, further bolstering the theory that the split was orchestrated by the ruling party leadership. Georgia’s main opposition groups have alleged this to be the case.

Government support and covert campaigns

POSTV was launched in 2018, led by former deputy attorney general Lasha Natsvlishvili, who is no longer officially associated with the channel, and Shalva Ramishvili. Ramishvili is a controversial figure and a vocal critic of the United National Movement, Georgia’s main opposition party, as well as civil society groups critical of the government.

Before their last announcement, POSTV had previously given substantial airtime to People’s Force members and other supporters of former Georgian Prime Minister and founder of Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili, including those who accuse the US government of waging a political war against Ivanishvili.

Shalva Ramishvili appearing on her program Samni & Co.

In 2020, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab reported on POSTVsecret cooperation on social networks with the pro-Kremlin parliamentary party the alliance of patriots and the extreme right Georgian march band.

A year earlier, the ISFED monitoring group exposed a similar covert online campaign by POSTV. He was targeting the main opposition candidate in a 2019 by-election in Tbilisi.

In August, the former deputy head of the Georgian State Security Service, Soso Gogashvili, described POSTV as having been created by the State Security Service, promising to talk more about it in the future.

[Read more on OC Media: 5 allegations by Georgia’s former security chief]

According to the Communications Commission report for the second quarter of this year, POSTV has come sixth in ad revenue, earning ₾1 million ($360,000), with a pro-government TV station Imedi at the top of the list.

Legislator and owner of illegal media

On Tuesday, Popular Force unveiled the newest members of its movement – ​​several anchors from POSTV, and five MPs from Georgian Dream: Zaal Mikeladze, Eka Sepashvili, Davit Kacharava, Dachi Beraia and Viktor Japaridze. Japaridze was also announced as the new owner of the television company’s controlling shares.

Japaridze acquired 52% of POSTV shares for ₾520,000 ($190,000) on the same day the move’s growth was announced.

Georgian legislation bans ‘an officer of an administrative body or other agent’ to hold a media license.

The Georgian Media Advocacy Coalition quickly appealed the Communications Commission to act on their ruling on a similar case in 2017, when they forced new lawmakers Nato Chkheidze and Zaza Okuashvili to drop shares in media companies.

Japaridze, a majority MP since 2004 who allied with Georgian Dream when they came to power in 2012, was embroiled in a scandal in 2018 when he was an apparent middleman between the government and former senior civil servant Mirza Subeliani, who would have tried to blackmail them. .

[Read the analysis in OC Media’s archive: Georgia’s tapes scandals suggest something is rotten at the top of Georgian politics]

Wednesday, Transparency International — Georgia reported that Japaridze had made four donations to Georgian Dream between 2012 and 2017 and that various companies ‘associated’ with him or his family had received a total of ₾7.8 million ($2.8 million) from government contracts these last years.

The group also reported that Japaridze had not declared all of his income in the past year and that there were signs of nepotism regarding the employment of his relatives in public office.

About Michael S. Montanez

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