TI Georgia Speaks of Systemic Deterioration of Media Environment over Past Year

The report released by local watchdog Transparency International Georgia on May 3, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, says that over the past year (from May 3, 2022 to May 3, 2023), the media environment in the country has “systemically deteriorated,” which is “also confirmed by international authoritative organizations.”

The case of Nika Gvaramia

The report also covers the case of the imprisonment of Nika Gvaramia, one of the founders and the director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, who was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison on May 16, 2022. The document stresses that the Public Defender of Georgia denounced Gvaramia’s imprisonment as politically motivated and “the court decision has been repeatedly criticized by both local and international organizations.” The document also notes that a number of authoritative organizations have called on President Salome Zurabishvili to pardon Gvaramia, believing that “Gvaramia’s imprisonment damages the country’s reputation” and that “one of the European Commission’s recommendations points to this very fact.”  

Violence against journalists and improper investigations

TI Georgia said that “the situation is further aggravated” by the inadequate investigation of the crimes committed against journalists and the failure of the authorities to fulfill their constitutional obligations. In this context, the organization draws attention to the impunity of the organizers of the homophobic attacks against journalists on July 5, 2021. “To date, dozens of cases of secret surveillance of journalists remain uninvestigated.”

According to the report, “the practice of obstructing journalistic activity and growing self-censorship is systemic” and “threats increase especially in times of crises.” In this context, the organization focuses on the facts of deliberate interference in journalistic activities and cases of excessive use of force by the police against journalists during the consideration of the draft law on “foreign agents.” TI Georgia highlights the arrest of Zura Vardiashvili, director of the online media outlet Publika, and Beka Jikurashvili, journalist with Tabula, saying that “despite the fact that there is no evidence of any kind of violation by the journalists in this case, the court fined both of them GEL 2,200-2,200.”  

Use of justice against the media

“In Georgia, an alarmingly growing number of coordinated lawsuits filed in court against critical media representatives for defamation is becoming a dangerous trend,” – says Transparency International Georgia, clarifying that “a large part of the plaintiffs against the three leading critical TV channels – Mtavari Arkhi, Formula and TV Pirveli are representatives of the ruling party and people close to them.

The organization noted that despite the clarity of the relevant legal clause on this issue, “the burden of proof is still on the journalist.” “In some cases, in order to increase the pressure on journalistic activities, they file defamation lawsuits and demand the freezing of journalists’ personal accounts and property.”

Effects of deteriorating legislation on freedom of expression and financial independence

The “negative” legislation adopted in 2022-2023 “threatens freedom of expression and the financial viability of the media.” As an example, the organization cites the March 2022 amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, which banned gambling advertising, sponsorship announcements and product placement in programming, as a result of which, in 2022, “the total commercial advertising revenue of television and radio stations decreased by 7.6% compared to the previous year.”

In addition, at the end of 2022, the Parliament adopted other amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, which, among other controversial issues, expanded the powers of the Communications Commission and regulated hate speech. This means that the Communications Commission can decide whether a program contains hate speech and impose sanctions.” “There is an expectation that these changes may be used to restrict media freedom and critical expression,” the document stresses.  

Draft law on “foreign agents”

The document focuses on the Russian-inspired draft law on “foreign agents,” which was withdrawn amid public protests, saying that “the draft law, which aimed at stigmatization of the groups critical of the government and at restriction of human rights, harmed the process of European integration.”

“Chilling effect” of new accreditation rule

The document draws attention to the new accreditation rules for journalists approved by the Parliament and emphasizes that against the background of the fact that the non-disclosure of public information in the country has reached a critical level, and the representatives of the ruling party refuse to cooperate with critical media, the new accreditation rules further complicates the ways for journalists to obtain information and increases the atmosphere of self-censorship. The accreditation rule has already shown in practice that it hinders the transparency of the Parliament’s activities and the availability of information.”

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


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