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CSOs: Press Freedom Situation ‘Alarming’ in Georgia

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Media Advocacy Coalition, uniting over ten local media watchdogs, has slammed the investigation launched by the Georgian State Security Service into an alleged act of sabotage in connection with a TV story aired by pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi, as “a threat of censorship.” The watchdogs said the government’s attempts “to punish the media and exert control on it is inadmissible.”

In a statement released on July 3, the Coalition spoke of an “alarming situation” for media freedom in Georgia.

The CSOs noted that “the State must respect the fundamental principles of media freedom and use the media self-regulatory mechanism if it becomes necessary to correct journalists’ professional wrongdoings.”

The watchdogs called for suspending the investigation into the TV story,  recommending the government bodies to approach instead the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics or Mtavari Arkhi TV’s self-regulatory body to discuss the accuracy of translations and the content of the controversial media piece.

Three more local civil society organizations, among them Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Human Rights Center (HRC) also issued a joint statement on July 3, calling on the government to refrain from interfering in the independence of critical media and using criminal repressions against freedom of expression.

Transparency International Georgia reacted on the case on July 2, stating that discussing the issue of the alleged violation of professional standards by the media in the criminal context goes against internationally recognized media freedom standards and grossly interferes with the editorial independence of the media.

Georgia’s chief domestic intelligence agency is probing into an alleged act of sabotage in connection with a TV story aired by pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV. According to the story, medical staff and local authorities were allegedly offering money to residents of the southern, ethnic Azeri majority Marneuli Municipality so that they named COVID-19 as the cause of death of their family members or relatives.

The Security Service said that the opposition-minded TV deliberately mistranslated Azerbaijani-language interviews and misinformed the public that aimed at inciting protests and hampering the smooth functioning of the government institutions and organizations.

On July 2, the Georgian State Security Service reported that the Tbilisi City Court has issued a ruling to obtain the entire footage of the TV stories aired by Mtavari Arkhi TV.

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