TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia launched a Russian-language TV channel on Tuesday focusing on news coverage of events in the Caucasus region, including unruly south Russia where Moscow faces a growing threat from Islamist insurgents.
The channel, whose first program was a marathon question-and-answer session between President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian public, is not a vehicle for state-controlled information, its director said.
“There is no way that we are going to let this channel be a propaganda channel,” Robert Parsons, the channel’s director and a former BBC correspondent, told Reuters.
But he said Moscow is unlikely to look kindly on a Georgian-run channel broadcasting to its southern republics, including Chechnya where it has fought two wars against separatists in the past 16 years.
Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have remained frosty since Russia crushed a Georgian assault on Georgia’s breakaway pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia in August 2008 after months of rising tension between Moscow and Tbilisi, a U.S. ally.
“In Russia, there is no doubt that there will be a certain amount of hostility toward us,” Parsons said.
“Our target is essentially to fill the information vacuum ... And of course, if you try to fill the information vacuum in countries where the media is controlled by the state, the state is not going to like it.”
The state-sponsored channel, First Caucasus News, was launched a day after a suicide bomber killed 35 people and wounded more than 100 at Moscow’s busiest airport, Domodedovo.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombing bore the hallmarks of militants fighting for an Islamist state in the North Caucasus on Russia’s southern frontier.
The Caucasus stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, taking in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as Russia’s turbulent southern flank including the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia.
Analysts said the new TV channel would annoy Moscow.
“This channel will irritate officials in Moscow, of course, as it will violate a monopoly on media coverage of events especially in the turbulent North Caucasus region,” independent analyst Alexander Rondeli told Reuters.
The new channel was briefly on air a year ago before Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat cut transmission, saying a long-term contract had not been signed.
Georgia accused Russia of masterminding the move, but Moscow denied the charge and Eutelsat denied being pressured by Russia.
The broadcaster sued Eutelsat in the French courts but lost the case and switched to another satellite - Hot Bird E13.
Editing by Tim Pearce