Georgia’s three leading online media outlets – Netgazeti, Publika, and On.Ge – issued a joint statement on September 23, slamming the Information Protection Center, a body under the Central Election Commission that monitors TV and online media as well as Facebook, over wrongly accusing them of discreditation attempts and spreading disinformation.
The three media outlets said the Center damaged their reputation in the process. “Such accusations are unacceptable to credible, professional, and quality-driven media,” the statement reads.
In their latest publication, the Center, issuing bi-monthly monitoring reports, attributed three instances of disinformation to Netgazeti, two to Publika, and one to On.Ge
In response to the allegations, the CEC body concurred that there was a “technical mistake,” concerning Netgazeti, and The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that was corrected as soon as discovered. The Center added that in the case of Publika and On.Ge, their coverage of local watchdog statements, that were marked as disinformation, led to “a monitoring flaw and was remedied accordingly.”
The Information Protection Center stressed it was “ready to consider constructive feedback and recommendations,” but stopped short of issuing an apology to the concerned media outlets.
In their joint statement, Netgazeti, Publika and On.Ge also pointed out that the Center has not yet corrected the mistakes, and the original report – both its Georgian and English versions – is currently still available on the CEC website.
The media organizations called on the CEC to “promptly” correct the mistakes in the report and disseminate the new versions through the very channels as the original document.
“Otherwise, we will be forced to protect our reputation in accordance with the law,” they warned.
Commenting on the controversy, Mariam Gogosashvili of MediaChecker, local watchdog, said yesterday “the objective of media monitoring by CEC is unclear.”
“The government representatives are continuously voicing their wishes to regulate media, which they justify with ‘the fight against disinformation.’ Hopefully, the media monitoring idea has not been invented to ‘back up’ an idea of media regulation,” Gogosashvili asserted.
The CEC’s Information Protection Center, in their statement, stressed that the Center was established with the financial support of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2021. “Thanks to their support, a monitoring group was formed, and the selected monitors had a training on media standards and detection of false information.”
The USAID, however, was quick to point out today that “the CEC is solely responsible for the operations of the center.” After initially supporting the CEC to establish the center a year ago, in 2020, it has “terminated this assistance and the center now operates without support from the U.S. government. “