Media Development Foundation (MDF), a local media watchdog, said in its new report that in 2019, similar to 2014-18 period, various government bodies continued to cooperate with and offer state budget contracts to media outlets renowned for spreading anti-Western narratives, disinformation and hate speech.
According to the CSO, the following media agencies notorious for spreading disinformation and hate-speech were financed by public agencies for their services:
- Newspaper Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelos Respublika) has received GEL 55,525 (USD 17,200) in budget contracts and stands out due to its homophobic, conspiracy, and Stalin-admiring content;
- Online agencies Georgian View (Kartuli Azri) and Reporter, with GEL 30,019 (USD 9,300) received in state contracts, regularly post misinformation, COVID-19-and 5G-related conspiracy theories, and discrediting content against government opponents.
- Media agency Marshalpress, with contracts worth GEL 12,806 (USD 3,950), often discredits government opponents and spreads disinformation, including on COVID-19.
The watchdog stated that government agencies in Georgia do not have clearly defined criteria on how to select contract recipient media agencies for information dissemination, and added that public institutions fail to take into account anti-discriminatory policies while cooperating with the said outlets.
According to the data collected by MDF, contracting government bodies for the said media outlets include National Environmental Agency, Road Department of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Special Penitentiary Service, local municipalities, etc.
The public bodies also continued to award contracts to media outlets affiliated with Sputnik agency, “Kremlin propaganda platform,” MDF said. The watchdog noted that such media agencies include online portals Newspress, NSP.ge, and Newspress-affiliated Region.ge, with their budget contracts totaling GEL 38,993 (USD 12,053).
As stated in the report, award-giving government agencies for the latter outlets include Special Penitentiary Service, agencies of Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Agriculture, and other sub-agencies and local bodies. The report also underscored that listed media outlets keep relying on Sputnik sources, and post archive content, including references to Russian General-Mayor Vyacheslav Borisov’s narratives on the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
Noteworthy, MDF said Newspress head Aleko Chubinidze, who had reportedly worked for Sputnik-Georgia, attended Sputnik’s Project training in 2019, where Anna Belkina, deputy editor of Russia Today – Russian state-controlled internationally broadcasting media agency – was among the speakers. The report said discussion participants also included representatives from other Georgian media agencies, including Newsday, Georgia and the World (Sakartvelo da Msoplio), Asaval-Dasavali, and Interpressnews, as well as Anzor Bitsadze, one of the leaders of sophisticatedly Kremlin-friendly United Georgia – Democratic Movement party [Bitsadze is the son of former Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze, party leader].