Court Fines TV Pirveli for Libeling Tbilisi Mayor

On 30 November that the Tbilisi City Court partially satisfied Mayor Kakha Kaladze’s libel lawsuit against TV Pirveli and awarded him GEL 15,000 (USD 5,545) in damages. This was reported by the Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), a human rights watchdog representing TV Pirveli.

Mayor Kaladze sued the channel, known for its critical views of the government, on June 20, claiming that in a broadcast on June 5, journalist Maia Mamulashvili falsely stated that “Kaladze got GEL 60 million (USD 20.7 million) only from one public procurement tender, this is an official information.” Mayor asked for GEL 100,000 (USD 34,603) in compensation, for what his lawyer Dimitri Gabunia, termed “a slanderous lie” intended to damage the Mayor’s reputation.

Gabunia also said that media slander had become “systemic in nature”, and claimed to be preparing “an appropriate response” with his team of lawyers.

GDI Decries Frivolous Lawsuit

GDI said the amount of the fine was “disproportionate” because when it comes to disseminating information about the performance of public functions by a political official, imposing GEL 15,000 on the media “does not correspond to the practice established so far either at the national or the European levels.”

The organization noted that such decisions have a “chilling effect” on civil society, fuelling anxieties that any criticism of the government may become a basis for a frivolous libel lawsuit. GDI also said, that recently officials have been “abusing lawsuit mechanisms” in a manner that can be interpreted as an attempt to “restrict the freedom of speech and expression of civil society through intimidation.”

The watchdog also noted that the Court took up the case in an expedited manner, within five months of its submission, which it claimed also fits the pattern of fast-tracking the frivolous libel lawsuits filed by the officials or linked to their interests.

The defense claimed that the plaintiff did not submit any evidence to prove the libelous nature of the journalist’s statement (in Georgia, the burden of proof in libel cases is placed on the plaintiff – GDI also said the Court ignored that as a political official, Mayor Kaladze has an obligation to tolerance criticism.

Importantly, GDI highlighted that the Court paid no attention to the statements of the plaintiff’s legal representative “who admitted that the real purpose of the lawsuit was not to protect the honor and dignity of the plaintiff but to protect the reputation of state institutions and authorities.” According to current legislation, “it is forbidden for defamation disputes to be related to the protection of non-property rights of the state or administrative body,” GDI emphasized.

Kaladze’s Lawyer’s Stance

In contrast, Kaladze’s lawyer Gabunia underscored that the Court confirmed that the information disseminated in the article was “slander” and “false information.”

“The TV channel and Maia Mamulashvili were instructed to deny this false information by the same means by which it was spread. This is very important in today’s decision,” he said.

Gabunia said the amount of the fine “could have been higher” and added, “we [the Municipality] would have done more good work with this money.”

Television can’t pay

Nodar Meladze, head of TV Pirveli’s news service, posted on Facebook that the Court fined the TV because “Mayor Kaladze simply did not like the questions” raised by the journalist. He also noted that TV Pirveli can not pay the fine, since its current accounts are frozen due to another court ruling. Meladze predicted that the next step could be for the court marshals to seize the property in lieu of payment.

Note: This article was updated on 30 November at 16:26 to reflect Kaladze’s lawyer’s comments on the Court’s ruling.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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