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RSF: Georgian Gov’t Jeopardizes Media Independence, Pluralism

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Paris-based press freedom watchdog, said the recent moves by the Georgian Government “jeopardize media independence and pluralism” in the country four months ahead of crucial parliamentary polls.

“The climate is becoming oppressive for Georgia’s media as a result of both judicial harassment that directly threatens their editorial freedom and the tightening of legislation,” the watchdog highlighted in a statement of July 20.

It said that the adoption of amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications on July 17 by the Georgian Parliament “restrict[s] the freedom of the broadcast media, while the ruling party is declaring a war on “fake news.” It said the amendments “evince a clear desire to control radio stations and TV channels, providing for the appointment of a “special manager” at the head of any broadcast media company that is also registered as an operator.”

RSF also stated that the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) – a regulatory authority charged with distributing electronic communication protocols and managing broadcasting frequencies – “had a strictly operational mandate when created, but its powers have gradually been extended to surveillance and censorship.”

RSF said the Media Critic online platform, founded by GNCC, “has of late concentrated on discrediting two opposition news websites, Netgazeti and Batumelebiaccusing them of publishing “fake news.”

The lengthy statement also referred to an ongoing investigation of pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi’s news story by the State Security Service on suspicion of sabotage. “Media opposed to the current government are often the victims of this kind of attack,” RSF stated.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said “the Georgian government should not interfere in the news media’s work, while the provision of original recordings to the intelligence services sets a disturbing precedent.”

“We urge the authorities to drop the criminal proceedings against Mtavari Arkhi at once and to promote reliable news reporting instead of censoring content,” she added.

The watchdog further stated that “after the change of ownership of Rustavi 2, a privately-owned TV channel whose editorial line was transformed, the regional public TV channel Adjara TV has been subject to political interference since September 2019.”

“The government is using the election campaign to step up pressure on opposition media, with the mayor of Tbilisi and general secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party branding Mtavari Arkhi and two other opposition channels,  TV Pirveli and Formula TV, as “fake news” broadcasters,” RSF concluded.

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