TI Georgia: 45 Cases of Attacks on Georgian Media in 2023

On December 25, local watchdog Transparency International – Georgia released “2023 Statistics of Violence against Georgian Media Representatives and the State’s Response”. According to the data, approximately 45 incidents of various forms of violence, harassment and intimidation against journalists critical of the ruling party have been publicly documented this year both in Tbilisi and in the regions.

TI Georgia reports that from January 1, 2023 to November 30, 2023, the Special Investigative Service opened 14 criminal cases for illegal obstruction of a journalist’s professional activities. Of the 14 cases, one was closed, four were sent to court for a hearing on the merits, and the remaining nine cases are under investigation. In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings against nine individuals in six criminal cases.

The organization identifies three main categories of violence against journalists: instances of overt assaults against media representatives; threats and alleged intimidation attempts against media representatives; and violence against journalists during protests, arrests and imposition of fines.

Instances of overt assaults against media representatives

With regard to the first category, statistics show that throughout the summer and fall, a number of disturbing incidents plagued the journalistic landscape in Georgia. In June, Misha Mshvildaze, an anchor and co-founder of Formula TV, was assaulted in central Tbilisi, resulting in charges against one individual. Then, in July, crews from Mtavari TV and Formula TV, opposition media channels, were attacked while covering an event of the opposition United National Movement party in Kakheti’s Sagarejo municipality.

Another obstruction occurred in July during the coverage of Tbilisi Pride, when the Mtavari TV crew was prevented from carrying out their professional activities. The situation escalated in August, when the Mtavari TV crew was attacked in Khaishi, Mestia municipality. In September, the bodyguards of Otar Partskhaladze, a U.S.-sanctioned former prosecutor general, physically attacked the crews of TV Pirveli and Formula TV in Tbilisi and confiscated their equipment.

The disturbing trend continued in October, when law enforcement officials restricted media access to the village of Chorvila during the United National Movement’s protest march, according to Mtavari TV. During clashes between supporters of Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili and opposition activists, a cameraman from TV Pirveli was hit with a rock and a journalist was hit with an egg.

Threats and alleged intimidation attempts against media representatives

In the second category, examples of threats and alleged attempts to intimidate media representatives include the August incident in which Gela Mtivlishvili, editor of Mtis Ambebi, was threatened with being thrown into the water while covering a landslide in Shovi. Irakli Kobakhidze, leader of Georgian Dream, denigrated Mtivlishvili, and Shalva Papuashvili, Speaker of Parliament, asked him to delete a Facebook post, calling him a “self-proclaimed journalist.”

In addition, Vakho Kareli, a photographer for Formula TV, was summoned for questioning by the State Security Service in connection with an investigation into an alleged coup attempt in October. Government-affiliated television channels furthered these discrediting efforts by airing allegations in October that the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Indigo were involved in orchestrating a revolution in Georgia.

The ruling party resorted to discrediting independent media, such as when Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili filed a complaint with international donors after OC Media refused to publish his op-ed in September.

TI Georgia also notes that concerns arose this year in February when a new accreditation rule for journalists in the legislature was introduced, raising fears of possible suspensions for asking critical questions. Already, 11 journalists have had their parliamentary accreditation suspended under the new rule, signaling a precarious environment for press freedom.

Violence against journalists during protests, arrests and imposition of fines

In early March, journalists Zura Vardiashvili and Beka Jikurashvili were arrested and subsequently fined while covering protests against the Russian-style “Foreign Agents” bill. At the same time, other journalists were obstructed in their coverage of the same demonstrations, with law enforcement officials using violence against them.

TI Georgia notes that these incidents exacerbated a broader atmosphere of fear and insecurity among journalists, who perceived these crimes as tangentially related to their professional activities. For example, in February, Nato Gogelia, a journalist with TV Pirveli, had her home broken into twice within a short period of time. In July, Nodar Meladze, the news director of TV Pirveli, had an external hard drive stolen from his car, while valuable personal items were left untouched. Also in July, journalist Vasil Dabrundashvili reported both the loss of documents from his home and the feeling of being under surveillance, adding to the worrying pattern of incidents targeting media workers.

TI Georgia Assessment

Transparency International – Georgia states: “Assaults on journalists, threats against them, interference in their professional activities, frequent instances of intimidation, and attempts of discrediting, coupled with a lack of thorough investigation and impunity, are clear characteristics of a kleptocratic state.”

Transparency International Georgia highlights the critical need for a fear-free and safe media landscape, especially in light of European integration and the upcoming crucial parliamentary elections in 2024. The organization stresses that ensuring an enabling environment for journalists, free from intimidation and interference, is paramount. It underscores the need for journalists to be able to carry out their professional duties unhindered in order to accurately inform the public. TI-Georgia calls for the prompt investigation of crimes against journalists and an end to impunity to ensure a safe media environment.

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


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