International human rights groups – the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch – echoed the Georgian Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the ownership rights over Rustavi 2 TV, Georgis’s most-watched television channel, to its former co-owner.
The Amnesty International said in its March 7 statement, that the ownership dispute over Rustavi 2 TV “raises concerns over the right to freedom of expression” and “could jeopardize” media freedom in Georgia.
“Rustavi 2 is one of the largest and the most popular media channels in the country and also one of the most outspoken government critics with a consistent pro-opposition editorial policy,” the statement said.
Highlighting that “concerns over the politically motivated nature of the lawsuit” with the aim to change the editorial policy of Rustavi 2 “are serious,” the rights group called on the Georgian authorities to “respect and ensure the right to freedom of expression and ensure that the legal dispute is solved without any political or other external pressure.”
The Amnesty International also stated that the Georgian authorities “must effectively investigate threats against” the Rustavi 2 Director General and “the discovery of surveillance equipment in the premises of the TV channel.”
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on March 6, noting that the ownership dispute over the television channel “has sparked serious concerns about potential government interference with both media and the judiciary.”
“A government-favored change in the editorial policy of Rustavi 2 would deliver a serious blow to Georgia’s media pluralism and could significantly limit the public’s access to opposition views,” HRW’s South Caucasus Director Giorgi Gogia was quoted in the statement.
“The entire process of contesting Rustavi 2’s ownership threatens media freedom and judicial independence and demands further scrutiny,” he also stated.
The rights group’s statement noted that “the concerns” on the Government’s potential interference “have been exacerbated” by other developments in the overall media landscape in Georgia “that have reduced the space for critical opposition media.”
Assessing the Georgian Government’s compliance with the suspension measure as “a positive move,” the organization called on the authorities to “agree to extend the suspension until the European Court’s final judgment.”
“Democratic societies depend on safeguards to ensure the government of the day cannot unduly interfere with either an independent judiciary or the requirement of a pluralist media,” Giorgi Gogia was also quoted. “With widespread concerns about such undue interference in Georgia, action should be taken to address them, and the process before the European Court of Human Rights could create the space and opportunity for that.”