The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics responded to the initiation of an investigation by the Personal Data Protection Service into how journalist Marika Bakuradze obtained citizens’ personal data for a TV Imedi story by emphasizing that since the law “On Personal Data Protection” does not apply to the media, the investigation of the issue is “unacceptable” and “contains the risks of limiting the work of media representatives.”
The Charter’s statement was preceded by the airing of Bakuradze’s story on Imedi’s Day show, in which she contacted several individuals to question them about the comments that they had posted on Facebook under a particular TV Imedi article. The story raised questions amongst the public about the legal and ethical implications of Bakuradze’s actions and resulted in widespread criticism directed at her and the TV channel. Notably, such concerns were also rooted in perceptions that the story represented an example of Imedi blackmailing critical citizens.
In response to concerns about the ethics of how the journalist obtained citizens’ phone numbers, the Charter explained that when it concerns public interest, it does not consider a journalist’s acquisition and use of a citizen’s personal phone number to be a professional crime. In this case, however, they emphasized, “there was no such public interest.”
Regarding the material itself, the Charter underscored that “the media should remember that the public has the full right to criticize it.”
“Publicly shaming people for criticism, demanding answers from them means that the media does not properly understand its own mission, its own duty. Moreover, it can be harmful both to the freedom of speech and expression and to the media itself,” the Charter noted.
Statement of the Former State Inspector
Londa Toloraia, the former State Inspector, voiced a different opinion on Facebook, stating that Bakuradze’s actions, “not only violate the inviolability of private life but also pose a great threat to freedom of expression and creates security risks for individuals. It is necessary for a journalist to think about these actions.”
According to Toloraia, “the story raises reasonable doubts that the phone numbers were transferred to her by a person/agency that has access to the official database.” Thus, she believes that in this case, the Personal Data Protection Service should investigate who gave the citizens’ phone numbers to Bakuradze.
Per the former State Inspector’s explanation, despite the fact that the Georgian law “On Personal Data Protection” does not apply to journalists, they are still obligated to protect the privacy of individuals, which is guaranteed under Article 15 of the Georgian Constitution and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The 10th Principle of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics of Georgia also obliges a journalist to respect the private life of others,” Toloraia emphasized.