MOSCOW — Imedi TV, the Georgian broadcaster forcibly taken off air during a violent crackdown on opposition street protests in Tbilisi last month, could be back on air by the end of the week, station managers News Corp. said Tuesday.
Lewis Robertson, station CEO and head of local Murdoch operation News Media Caucasus, said a court order imposed Nov. 14 banning Imedi from broadcasting should be lifted within days.
Riot police caused extensive damage to broadcasting equipment when they smashed their way into Imedi’s studios and took it off air in the middle of a news broadcast Nov. 7.
President Mikhail Saakvashvili said the station was being used by its owner, opposition leader Badri Patarkatsishvili, “as a tool for destabilizing the country and ousting the government.”
A court order confirmed the ban prompting more opposition anger and Georgia’s largest public protests for years when 30,000 people took to the streets Nov. 25.
News Corp., which owns a 49% stake in Imedi, struck a deal with Patarkatsishvili in October to take control of his 51% stake and control the station while he ran for president against Saakvashvili.
Under the deal News Corp. has power of attorney until October 2008 to “run, manage and control” the station without interference from Patarkatsishvili, Robertson said.
“The court has now been asked to life the (injunction) and we are waiting for the court to take that decision. We shall then be able to go to the station, assess the damage and see how long it is going to take to get back on air,” Robertson added.
He dismissed a report Tuesday that the Georgian government wanted to revoke the court order in order to buy the station and take it under state control.
Acting Georgian president Nino Burzhandazde, who is running the Caucasian country after Saakvashvili stepped down pending a snap election Jan. 5, told a parliamentary briefing that keeping Imedi off the air during the election campaign contravened press freedom, Russian business daily Kommersant reported Tuesday.
Burzhandazde said a court order banning the station from broadcasting should be lifted to allow the government a chance to buy the station outright, the newspaper, quoting unnamed parliamentary sources said.
Robertson dismissed the report.
“I do not think that is correct,” he said.
“It is speculation. We have the power of attorney over the station until October 2008. We can run, manage and control it. Badir still owns 51% of the shares but we have power of attorney so can do anything with those shares except sell the television or radio station and we have no interest in doing that.”
In a radio interview on Russia’s independent station Ekho Moskvy, Patarkatsishvili Tuesday described the report as a “rumor” but refused to rule either in or out any potential future sell of his majority stake in Imedi.