Reality show may have sparked departure

MOSCOW — The sudden resignation of the general director of Georgia’s leading commercial television station Rustavi-2 was blamed Monday on a religious and political scandal sparked by the screening of a reality show criticized for its alleged promotion of erotic and sexual themes.

Privately-owned Rustavi-2, which was founded in 1994 and broadcasts to more than 85% of the small Caucasian republic’s 4.6 million people, announced Sunday that Koba Davarashvili had left the company.

Davarashvili had stepped down to pursue “business” interests and had been replaced by Irakli Chikovani, the station’s advertising manager, the station said in a brief news item posted on its Internet site.

The station did not elaborate on the reasons for the sudden resignation but Russian and Georgian wire agency reports Monday said that the recent appearance of an openly gay participant in Rustavi-2’s hit primetime version of Swedish reality format “Bar” had been partially to blame.

The popular show — now in its fourth season — recently featured a male contestant who appeared dressed in women’s clothes and used live transmissions to suggest he was looking for a male lover, agency reports said.

The broadcasts prompted censure from right-wing religious leaders in Georgia’s ancient and traditionally conservative Christian community and, reportedly, an angry phone call to the channel from U.S.-educated Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.

The show — where contestants are voted off by viewers for poor performance in running a bar set up in a “Big Brother” style environment – reacted to the criticism by ejecting the troublesome contestant, claiming he had been aggressive and demanded special treatment.

Rustavi-2 could not be reached for official comment Monday but a highly placed source at the station, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Variety that the general director’s departure was more closely connected to political, rather than sexual, scandal.

“It’s true that the behavior of the cross-dressing contestant on the reality show did cause controversy in Georgia, where homosexuality is still largely taboo and society remains very conservative,” the source said.

“But a much bigger political row involving the country’s former minister of defense and differences in our coverage of that compared with our main competitor, Imedi TV — which is part owned by Rupert Murdoch — was the real reason,” the source claimed.

Rustavi-2’s news journalists had not been happy with what they considered less than objective coverage of the political row and a number of “big names” had left the station, sparking Davarashvili’s own departure, the source added.

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