Journalists at Georgian state TV network First Caucasian Channel (PIK) staged an on-air protest at closure threats late on Monday.
Employees at the Russian-language network said their satellite feed had been cut on October 13, and pointed out that the threats to close the station followed hard on the heels of the Georgian Dream coalition’s victory in the parliamentary elections earlier this month.
As part of the protest, network anchors and correspondents staged an otherwise typical nightly newscast – if not for their long, silent glares into the camera.
Some employees and observers, however, also say the channel’s shoddy financial management has been a crucial factor in its potential demise.
Georgian media analyst David Mchedlidze told Izvestia that the channel had already spent its $8.5 million budget for 2012 by the time of the October 1 parliamentary elections.
Nicholas Clayton, senior editor at PIK English, conceded that since launching, the channel had failed to generate revenue. “As a purely export satellite channel, it’s a very difficult business model, and I’m not sure we tried hard enough to actually make our own money and be self-sufficient,” he said.
PIK’s coverage is known to be critical of Russian foreign and domestic policy, and the network has been slammed by detractors, including Georgian Dream members, as a propaganda vehicle for pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.
In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, Saakashvili supporters repeatedly accused Prime Minister-elect Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream, of being a pro-Russian stooge. Following recent reforms, Ivanishvili, who has promised to restore Georgia’s tattered relationship with Russia, will inherit significant powers as prime minister.
PIK employees defend their editorial mission as countering what they call the predominantly negative portrayal of Georgia in Russian-language media, and claim that action against it aims to silence that voice.
Their “silence on air” protest sought to bring this home to their audience.
“I expect we probably are not going to figure heavily in the Georgian Dream government’s plans in the 2013 budget,” said Clayton. “The channel might not exist as of January 1.”