18:40, Wednesday, 21.10.2020
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Video Patrol vs. Human Rights

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

“Thanks to the patrol police,” – a phrase which has become famous after various TV projects were initiated by the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, very often we have heard how citizens are shout “do not shoot me with the camera” when the press service department of the Ministry prepares the latest action-packed TV program.

We tried to find out whether human rights are breached when a person is caught on film without his/her permission even if s/he is a suspect being sought or arrested by patrol police.

Georgian society has had a paradigm shift in its attitude towards the TV Program soon after it was first broadcasted. It has been perceived in rather negative light and various organizations expressed their dismay and even protested at different times.

Nana Kakabadze, representative of the organization “Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights:”  “When we applied to the TV Company Rustavi 2 with protest we were told we could not succeeded even if we filed complaints because it was a show and is prepared by a journalist and there was not editorial oversight on our part. They only accepted the information the Ministry of Internal Affairs provided to them for airing.  Unfortunately, however, the TV program openly accepts material that results in violations of human rights.”

Ucha Nanuashvili, executive director of the Human Rights Centre, stated after their organization protested of and the TV Company “Imedi” showed how TV program “Video Patrol” breached human rights; several changes were introduced into the program.”

“We spread a statement by media sources and there was some fallout. They even covered the faces of detainees for a period of time. However, now someone who has been taken into custody is now a criminal and not a suspect. It is clear that now much of the material that is broadcasted in never fact checked, which results in breaching the honored tradition of a person is innocent until proven guilty.”

Several scandals are connected with the program. For instance, the infamous murder of Amiran Robakidze is one case in point.  Studio “Reporter” discovered as part of a journalistic investigation of the murder that the actual film shots showed on the Video Patrol program were not even real.

Vakhtang Komakhidze, who headed up the journalistic investigation recalls the operators showed some phrases while they edited the material for the recording.

“We noticed that while editing the voice and the movement did not coincide with each other. For example, they cut the voice but left the movement; or vice versa. The patrol police officers could be heard saying the boys do not have anything (meaning guns); they cut off the movement but the still voice remained. However, it was hardly heard. We noticed those phrases after we started to examine everything very carefully.”

Vakho Komakhidze states he cannot accept broadcasting of similar programs when the legislation prohibited video recording of court hearings and criminal cases as being unacceptable.  When the courts have already confirmed the accusations during the case discussion, nobody can get access to the copy of the courts decision.

“There are such cases where some unknown or strange person is shown on TV, and it is understood that his innocence or guilt has not been proved. Such an attitude on the part of the police to basic human rights is immoral. The facts are retold in subtitles; like “robbery”, “pillaging,” “attack” and they are showing the actual faces of people. Soon it may be found out that the person caught on film was completely innocent.”

All respondents that we interviewed agreed that the materials recorded by Video Patrol violate the presumption of innocence and human rights.

Lawyer Lia Mukhashavria claims the fact that police protects somebody from illicit behavior does not mean that police has right to label the victim as someone who is insidious to the audience without their full permission. The people who are recorded as suspects by Video Patrol have been denied their rights of privacy. 

Beso Bokhashvili, executive director of the Young Lawyers Association said that according to the Article 8 of the European Convention, “The Right to Respect a Privacy of a Person”, patrol policemen have right to shoot the detention process in particular cases when their action has a legal objective.

“It cannot be distributed when an actual criminal is arrested. However, even that criminal, before the court reached a verdict and convicts him, enjoys the full right for the presumption of innocence – innocent until proven guilty.  Consequently, patrol police officers might face some problems if the detainee turns out to be innocent. The state runs a risk when all who are taken into custody are displayed on TV.”

It is very common for the “Video Patrol” to record and broadcast when people are attempting suicide. The patrol police have been successful in prevented them from achieving their goal. Of course, similar examples make a society feel sympathetic towards the patrol police and they are doing a good job. However, nobody cares about the person who wanted to commit a suicide. There were cases when even faces were shown. Beso Bokhashvili speaks about the precedent which occurred in the United Kingdom, “Peck v. the United Kingdom.”

“Peck, who wanted to commit a suicide jumped into the Thames. The video-camera installed nearby recorded his action. BBC showed the fact to the public. Mr. Peck appealed to the court with a petition that his privacy had been violated because the state had not legal aim when allowing the BBC to show his attempted suicide. In this case, the court unilaterally stated that the private interests of Peck were more valuable than those of the viewing audience. Based on that particular case we can claim that patrol policemen breach privacy of the person when his/her face is shown or his ID is announced while he is in detention.”

Showing similar person on TV has both legal and psychological features. Psychologist Nodar Sarjveladze stated that it is not reasonable to describe an attempted suicide. “It is an action when a person tries to kill himself/herself. There are a lot of potential suicides, and many people are prone to taking their lives.

Lia Mukhashavria thinks that the problem has another perspective. Society does not know that they have right to preserve their privacy.

“I think, first of all, we should explain to the society that if somebody does not take their request for privacy into consideration we will then be facing a very serious violation; invasion of individual privacy.”  

On the other side it is completely embarrassing when similar violation is committed by the state on behalf of its law enforcement bodies. “Video Patrol” is an official TV Program of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and it is prepared in the name of the state. Thus, the state directly breaches the privacy of its citizens for its own ends.”

Beso Bokhashvili speaks about ways to resolve the problem. “The only way out for the state to reach the aim and make patrol police more popular and on the other hand to protect the privacy of any citizen on the other, which can be accomplished by covering the face of a detainee with black square and it will make impossible to identify him/her by the audience”

We tried to get in touch with the press service department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and for them to share some comments. Generally, the press-centre of the Ministry has a well-established system in place to deal with journalists. We called Zura Gvenetadze, the head of the Press Centre and he suggested us to get in touch with Shota Khizanishvili, the head of the administration of the Ministry. It was much more difficult to call Khizanishvili. Finally he answered: “Speak fast, please, I am at a meeting,” he said. We explained what we wanted to learn from him. He advised to call later. We were calling him all day long from the same number but he did not answer. When we called him from the different number he answered the call.

“A person is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty and this right should not be violated. To say a person is a criminal is wrong and this can only be proved in a court of law. In our cases it does not happen in this way. When a person is detained, the subtitles state that s/he is a suspect.”

When we asked about those people who attempted to commit a suicide he cut the line. After that he never answered our phone calls.

Video projects of the patrol department appeared in Georgian TV following the 2004 Rose Revolution when Guram Donadze was appointed as a head of the Press-Service Department of Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was both the author and producer of the project. After the murder of Sandro Girgvliani (Donadze was publicly claimed to be one of those who ordered the murder though he was not punished) Donadze was resigned from his position. However, he still continued to the producer for the program. We tried to find out if he still keeps his position of the producer and called the press service department of the Interior Ministry again. Zura Gvenetadze did not have information about the issue and he, representative of the department whose competence is to prepare projects, did not know who the producer of the program was. Later, Eka Brekashviliz, another representative of the Press Centre, answered and replied that Irma Alasania was the producer and gave us her telephone number.

We dialed the number 72 44 34 and asked the same question to Irma Alasania: Who is the producer of the Video Patrol? She replied the project did not have a producer and everybody did his/her job. When we asked what was the principle of the project preparation she blamed us for being traitors and enemies of the state. Since Irina Alasania could not tell the difference between a state secret and the legal right to public information from one another. We tried to explained to her that the society has right to know everything about the program, which is prepared for them.

She answered:: “You made a mistake when asking this question. You claim this program is for the public but we do not represent Georgian Public Broadcasting (State TV). We work on particular project that are ordered by a concrete TV Station. Patrol has never had and will never have a producer. It is not “First Channel” or “Kavkasia”.”

“Maybe you are a traitor and you want to provide representatives of certain countries with the information. Thus, we will not issue similar information on the telephone.”  In fact the “Video Patrol” had a producer, Guram Donadze whose name was written in the subtitles describing such a position. 

Irma Alasania claims that the program was not for Georgian society. What does she mean? Does “Rustavi 2” prepare the program for only on the order of the Ministry of Interior Affairs? In this case, the statements of the TV Station turn out to be correct in that the “Rustavi 2” is actually a subdivision of the MIA. Otherwise, why should the TV Company, seek to make as much money as possible – and for some reason has commissioned a TV program that is not oriented at the public interest and then why pay money for it?

Elizbar Khachapuridze, the lawyer for the Human Rights Centre, stated that after the word “suspect” represents a deep understanding of presumption of innocence, which should be automatically preserved. However, it is Just the opposite; representing a more cynic attitude towards the question. This institute should be preserved until court estimates the guiltiness of the detainee. When the presumption of innocence is breached, it means that the state legislation has been violated:  Article 6, Paragraph II of the European Convention of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms.”

One more point that impacts on people when watching Video Patrol-that is realistic description of the events, portrayals of f dead bodies and they overdo with more blood than what is necessary.

Giorgi Berulava, a psycho-therapist said that natural description and transition of the crime without warning should not be watched by adults under 18 of age. “Generally there is certain code of ethics that should be followed by both law enforcers and journalists alike.  The cameras of the “Video Patrol” must not be focused solely on horrifying scenes.”

However, Nodar Sarjveladze considers that similar programs are necessary. “Part of the society is terrified by the program. If people have some fear, the level of fright will increase when watching such a program. On the other hand, it is not bad because a person should get used to such difficulties.”

All respondents that express their opinions in the article are convinced that the video projects of the Ministry of Internal are prepared for the society as a whole.  Unfortunately, however, when the interviews were recorded we did not know that Video Patrol was mainly focused on the needs of the personnel of MIA. Otherwise, we should have mentioned such a fact in the final analysis.

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