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Freedom of Media in Georgia

29.05.2009
Ana Natsvlishvili

Some people established a corridor of shame for the journalists of Public Broadcasting in April 2009. By this method they expressed their protest against the news-reporting policy of Public Broadcasting. In reply PB stated that it would not report news items about the rallies of opposition parties.

There are two important points in this situation: the first point is some people protested the partial reporting by the national TV Channels of the ongoing situation in the country; and the second point is that Public Broadcasting replied to the protest against its policy by blocking the information.

It is good that people have a feeling of protest because peaceful expression of protest is the characteristic feature of democracy and if the citizens have different opinions about the current situation they should speak about it publicly. Consequently, we can see that a 70-year-long totalitarian regime is fading away… However, it is a pity that media sources have become the object of public protest together with the government. Some people blame the media for partiality and that does not indicate that Georgia is a democratic country. This claim is made more convincing by the fact that PB blocked the information in reply to the public protest against their partiality.

If one part of the society thinks that PB does not adequately report the ongoing events in the country the TV Company has to listen to these people and take their suggestions into consideration. The law requires PB to express the interest of the entire society and not only one group or social layer. Those regulations are the legal and moral basis for apportioning hundreds of thousands of GEL from the budget to PB.

However,  PB chose the ostrich position in reply to the protest.

The story does not end there. On the same day Georgian national TV Channels “Imedi”, “Rustavi 2”, Alania” and “Adjara” expressed their solidarity with PB and refused to prepare news releases about the Corridor of Shame. By so doing each of them made a fatal mistake – they practically confirmed the assumption that Georgian Media sources are not oriented to inform the society but in fact try to influence people ideologically.

The principal role of the media is to inform the society about the current situation in order to enable the people to analyze the situation, to have their own civil positions and have corresponding reactions based on their positions. It is up to people to analyze the facts and media should not do it. However, if the media fails to provide the society with information people will not analyze the situation.

Public Broadcasting, and all other national channels which supported it, ceased providing the people with information so people could not analyze the situation. Most of Georgian media prepares a very small number of news releases about the ongoing protest demonstrations in Tbilisi, as happened on May 26 when TV Company “Imedi” cut out part of the text from the appeal of the Patriarch of Georgia to the Georgian Army not to use force against their compatriots during the political crisis in the country. Very often national TV Channels incorrectly translate the statements of foreign diplomats in Georgian in favor of the ruling party. 

Each of these facts can be assessed as depriving the people from the possibility of getting impartial information and analyzing it. Such actions insult the society and the dignity of each person (a person is insulted regardless of whether representatives of Georgian media sources realize it or not).

The arguments of the TV Companies to justify their blockade are interesting too: “Solidarity to colleagues” and “to avoid provocations”.

The first argument is too weak in the light of the background of the long-term experience of the TV Companies. Soon after the Rose Revolution TV Companies “Iberia”, “Channel IX” and “202” ceased broadcasting because of the indirect or direct oppression of the government. Almost every talk-show was canceled from TV Companies. In 2006 Eka Khoperia spoke about being oppressed in her talk-show and left “Rustavi 2”. In 2007 riot police dispersed TV Company “Imedi” and stopped the legal broadcasting.

The history of Georgian TV Channels during last few years represents several tens of similar facts but there is not a single fact of solidarity in this history.

“Better later than never” – it is possible to explain and justify the solidarity with this logic; but it is difficult to explain why media sources did not protest oppression of their colleagues by the government and broke silence only after some people and opposition parties started to criticize them.

Nor can the second argument – avoiding possible provocations –  be used to justify the information blockade. Protection of the public order is a legal basis of interfering with the freedom of expression only when a threat is sudden and serious. However, ceasing the reporting on some issue to avoid provocations is censorship. Georgian legislation prohibits censorship.

It is clear that journalists and broadcasting companies have the right to have their own position regarding ongoing situations and to share their position with the society as well; however, who can believe that representatives of media sources expressed their solidarity to the Public Broadcasting without being ordered by the governmental officials. On the other hand, if it is so, blocking the information about the ongoing situation is illegal because that deprives the residents of the regions of Georgia of the information about the events that occur in the capital.

Control of the news-reporting did not originate in Georgian media sources; it had always been source to control the society. According to the liberal tradition, freedom of news-reporting was fundamental basis for transparent and democratic state. Media is entitled to provide the society with the unbiased information in the democratic society. Freedom of expression and freedom of information is legal basis of the activities of journalists that is guaranteed by many states already and these rights are ratified in the Constitution of Georgia and in the Law of Georgia. However, there is one more issue is that media representatives are entitled to find and spread unbiased information.

The rights and responsibilities of media agencies are not distinguished and it is two sides of one coin. If the media refuses to implement its duties it practically declines its rights.

To be short, blocking the information and impartial reporting of the facts media sources started to cut the branch on which they are sitting. The sooner media sources realize their mistakes, the sooner they will gain their place in the society back. Otherwise, the threat to national TV Channels of turning into a tool of political and economical players to reinforce the power will become more realistic.

Initially I got sad when I heard completely equal statements on Georgian TV Channels regarding blocking the information. The oppression during previous years on them had made more negative impact than I predicted. Many of them not only got used to being oppressed but do not even dream of being independent.

Freedom is not only right, freedom is responsibilities – and that’s why it is difficult…

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