A group of 20 civil society organizations, including Transparency International Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Georgian Democracy Initiative, Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and UN Association of Georgia, as well as the Georgian Public Defender responded to the yesterday’s ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute and stressed the importance of maintaining “pluralistic media environment” in the country and protecting labor rights of the TV channel’s staff.
In a joint statement released on July 18, the local civil society organizations noted that the recent developments related to the ECHR judgement on the Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute case “represent a significant challenge for Georgia’s fragile democracy and pose a serious threat for the media landscape.”
“Freedom of expression and media are indispensable conditions for the country’s democratic development. In Georgia’s polarized media environment, Rustavi 2 TV plays a significant role in monitoring the government and keeping it accountable for its activities,” the statement reads.
The group also said that the change in Rustavi 2’s ownership “goes in line with the interests of the government, which has been openly confirmed through numerous statements.” “It is important to discontinue the practice of a change in management/ownership directly reflecting on the broadcaster’s critical editorial policy towards the government,” the statement reads.
“In light of the current reality in Georgia, it is essential for Rustavi 2’s new owner and management to ensure the editorial independence of the journalists and allow them to make decisions according to their own conscience,” the CSOs said, noting the need of protecting employees’ labor rights.
Public Defender response
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria focused on the importance of freedom of expression and pluralistic media environment in the country. In a statement released on July 18, she emphasizes that “a healthy media environment has a vital role in a democratic society.”
“The Public Defender hopes that the changes made to the ownership of Rustavi 2 based on the decision of the European Court of Human Rights will not negatively affect the pluralistic media environment in the country and that the labour rights and professional freedom of journalists employed in the Rustavi 2 TV company will be protected,” her statement reads.
The Court also ruled “to discontinue” suspension of the enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision of March 2017, which granted the ownership rights of Rustavi 2 TV, to its former co-owner Kibar Khalvashi.
Shortly after the ECHR ruling, Kibar Khalvashi applied to the National Public Registry (NAPR) and has been registered as the new owner of Rustavi 2 TV. Khalvashi’s lawyer, Paata Salia was appointed as the new director of the TV channel.