In July of 2011 streets of Tbilisi were crowded with white t-shirts with crossed out cameras painted on it. It was a logo of protest and solidarity at the same time. Every free journalist boldly protested arrest of four Georgian photo reporters. Among the detained reporters were Irakli Gedenidze, photographer of the president of Georgia, and his wife photo reporter Natia Gedenidze. Georgian journalists demanded to meet with the minister of internal affairs. On July 12 the meeting was held.
1. Who Is the Dominant?
According to the Freedom House’s annual report about World Press Freedom, published on May 2, Georgia remains in "partly free" countries’ category. Recent research gives 55 score to Georgian media and it ranks 118th place. Last year it occupied 126th place.
The survey, which covers 156 countries and is based on 2010 data, gives to each country a score from 0 - 100 scale. Evaluation of the indices is based on legislative, political and economic environment in which the media has to work.
Freedom House has linked this progress to the improved political condition, which resulted in reduction of journalists’ persecution and cases of official censorship, also more balanced coverage of the information on national TV “Public Broadcasting”.
Today there are two dominating televisions in Georgian media – “Rustavi 2” and “Imedi”. According to the data, published in Georgian magazine “Liberal”, these two televisions occupy 61% of Georgian media market. According to many inquiries “Rustavi 2” remains the highest rated channel in Georgia.
One of the unusual peculiarities of media transparency in Georgia is that, public isn’t informed who are the actual owners of “Rustavi 2” and “Imedi”. According to the new media transparency law, the holder of the television shall not be an administration organization, an official from the administration organization, a political party, a member of the political party, or a public servant.
In October of 2010 the speaker Davit Bakradze admitted, that every television has to notify society about owner. The speaker gave to his group two-week term to discuss and work on it. The identity of the owners of “Rustavi 2” and “Imedi” is still secret.
In November of 2007 television “Imedi” was closed. The latter was established in 2002 by Georgian Jewish oligarch Badri PatarkaciSvili. Several months prior to the television closure the oligarch had opposed the government. It can be said with confidence that at that time “Imedi” was the most impartial, objective and high-level television in Georgian media.
One of the correspondents of “Imedi”, preferring to remain anonymous, remembers the evening of November 7 of 2007, when the special weapons and troops unexpectedly stormed into the building of television.
“All of them have been masked.” – She says. “They demanded us to lie on the floor. It was a real nightmare. I remember one pregnant girl. She was the trainees. She couldn’t lie on the floor, but one of them ordered her “Down!”
That time the streets of Tbilisi were full of stickers with inscription on it “Give us back Imedi” (“DagvibruneT Imedi”). Imedi in Georgian means hope. It was a pun.
In January of 2008 “Imedi” returned to its audience with different format. The society was disappointed. Reorganized television has the other owner. The staff was also changed.
Today five televisions spread propaganda of governmental ideology in Tbilisi. Those are: “Rustavi 2”, “Imedi”, “Public Broadcasting”, “Pik” and “Real TV”. The most vivid and non-balanced among them is “Real TV”, which was established in 2009 by Guram Donadze, chief of the press centre of The Ministry of the Internal Affairs. (This television is located in the building of The Ministry of the Internal Affairs). On 4 of July 2011 Mr. Donadze was awarded with the special prize for the development of journalism in Georgia, though he isn’t distinguished for his various journalistic experiences.
“Maestro” and “Caucasia” are oppositional televisions. The ex-owner of “Maestro” Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who was the first director of “Rustavi 2”, established his own political party. According to the legislation about media transparency in Georgia, he has left his post. Today “Maestro” has six owners. Their names are familiar to the public. One of them is a famous Georgian designer Maka Asatiani, wife of the businessman, who finances the oppositional “Georgian party”. One of the owners of “Maestro” Mamuka Ghlonti explains:
“Maestro” is absolutely free television. Not a single political party would influence on it.”
The studio “Monitori” is a group of journalists, engaging in an investigative journalism. Last year they have shot a documentary film about the televisions’ owners. It turned out that “Caucasia” is exception among the other televisions that has the same possessor during all this time. Some journalists consider that the movies of “Monitori” spread anti governmental propaganda.
The director of “Monitori” journalist Nino Zuriashvili refuses this fact. In addition she explains, that in spite of their boldly activities, she can’t remember neither threat, nor censorship from the government.
Journalist of state television Davit Paichadze discusses the problems of Georgian media. To his mind, it characterizes with the lack of professionalism, than with the partiality.
“I can’t remember the facts of censorship from the government.” – Explains Mr. Paichadze. “It’s very often when the invited guests refuse to come in my TV show. Politicians are amazing people. I don’t suppose that their refusal is based on political decision.”
In the evening of 26 May a video was released in internet, depicting the raid of the demonstrators by police and special weapons and troops in the night of 25 of May. For the viewer it’s not difficult to notice on the screen policemen beating a teenager. This footage had been shot by the Pik’s journalist, who afterward refused to comment on it. “Maestro” was the only television, which has broadcasted this video on TV.
Media Expert Nino Danelia considers that the decision of “Pik”, to release the video only in internet, has got a political nature.
“I do not think that it was an ethical decision, because the face wasn’t shown and it is impossible to identify the child. Therefore it would be another fact which proves how the police exceeded its authority that night. No doubt it was political decision, that’s why the other televisions didn’t broadcast it.” – explains the media expert.
Actually neither state television, nor the others have broadcasted the truth. That time social media and print media were covering events of May 26 boldly, objectively and impartially.
Eliso Chapidze, editor of the newspaper “Rezonansi” and member of the council of Journalistic Ethics Charter, thinks that print media is much more impartial than television or radio, but there occurs other problems.
“To my mind, coefficient of the freedom of the speech is higher in press.” – She says. “But there appear different problems, such as the lack of advertisement, lack of professional journalists and high prices of the paper.”
2. “Top Secret” or “Spy Photo Reporters”
On 7th of July early morning five photo reporters: Irakli Gedenidze, Natia Gedenidze, Zurab Kurtsikidze, Giorgi Gedenidze and Shah Ayvazov were detained in their own houses. Photo reporter of “Associated Press” Shah Ayvazov was released the same day. The others were charged for giving secret information to the foreign organizations. Later the representative of the ministry of internal affairs declared, that the reporters used to send materials to GRU – Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia ("Главное Разведывательное Управление").
Free Georgian journalists were protesting arrest of photo reporters tirelessly, demanding to meet with the minister of internal affairs. The meeting was held. Journalists’ major purpose was to be informed about evidences that would make sure media and society in photo reporters’ culpability. The case was top secret.
Photo reporters were charged with the first part of article 314 of the Criminal Code of Georgia.
1. Collecting, keeping of the object, document, information or any other data containing the state secret of Georgia or transferring thereof to a foreign country, foreign organization or their representative, or extortion or transference of other information by commission of the surveillance of a foreign state or a foreign organization to the detriment of the interests of Georgia, shall be punishable by prison sentences ranging from five to ten years in length.
2. Espionage, perpetrated amid war or military conflict, or that has substantially undermined the interests of Georgia, shall carry legal consequences of imprisonment ranging from eight to twenty years in length.
Ia Antadze was one of those journalists, who have met with the minister. She thinks that this meeting was needful, though some questions have remained without answers.
“We consider, the article 314 of the criminal code of Georgia is quiet unclear.” – She explains. “It isn’t determined what kind of information is meant here. Besides we haven’t evidences that make us sure, they are spies indeed. When the accused isn’t approval, it means that they were arrested unlawfully.”
On July 22 in accordance with a procedural agreement concluded with the Main Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia arrested Georgian photographers get off with a suspended sentence.
3. Fiction of the War
On March 13 2010, at 8:00 pm on “Imedi” twenty-minute report was broadcasted , that the Russian troops occupied Georgian territory and they are about to enter Tbilisi. At the end of report an anchorman declared that according to the unofficial sources, Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia was killed. Various well-known politicians’ declarations were made in the report. Among them were Barack Obama, diplomats, journalist Valeria Novodvorskaya and others. They sympathized with a small democratic state occupied again by a Big Monster called Russia.
“Georgia is being punished for following a democratic way” – stated one of the foreign politicians.
There was noted by Dmitry Medvedev and some Russian political leaders in the report, that it was a military operation intended to unite Georgians and Russians as it was before.
Tanks, planes, soldiers could be seen on TV. The report was broadcasted on radio “Imedi” as well. No comment, no warning message that the report was a feint. It turned out the text translated into Georgian spoken by USA President, British ambassador and Mr. Medvedev was written by scriptwriters of “Imedi”.
But in fact a few minutes prior to the broadcasting one of the journalists announced that the report would show a faked news in the future. It transpired in spite of some word warning was not enough because people were scared. In accordance with еру article 13, clauses 2 and 5 of the Georgian Broadcasting Code to raise a groundless panic among people provide to deprive a license.
Next day after the simulated report did, a conversation recording appeared where Mr. Giorgi Arveladze, Director of “Imedi” and Mrs. Eka Tsamalashvili, journalist of the same channel were talking on the report. A director of the Television Company demanded the reporting would not be underwritten that report is simulated. Mr. Giorgi Arveladze is not a journalist. After “Revolution of Roses” he has been holding various political posts.
At that time the Georgian journalists (the press generally) demanded the director of “Imedi” to be responsible for this offence and Mrs. Eka Tsamalashvili would be deprived of a journalism license in the future.
The members of the council of Journalistic Ethics Charter of Georgia expressed indignation at the fiction of the war and demand the ‘Imedi’ creative team and journalists to explain where this dreadful report was written and who has ordered it.
They reminded journalists of “Imedi” the following duties:
• A journalist must have respect for truth and people’s rights to get a precise information
• Information output done by journalist must be based only on proved source. A journalist must not hush up important facts and does not make false documents and information.
• Media is obliged to amend imprecise information published that might mislead people.
Georgian journalists’ protest was in vain. No one politician of the government team had censured the simulated reportage of the war on “Imedi”. Mr. Giorgi Arveladze did not resign. As for Mrs. Eka Tsamalashvili, today she works as a journalist in the state television “Public Broadcasting”.
Information is a major vital resource for the human being in XXI century. Free media, which is one of the most important aspects of democracy, should give information to society correctly and in proper time. Actually media can have a great influence on individual’s consciousness, but sometimes it might suggest a different version of the reality.
The research of international organization “Journalists without Borders”, conducted in 2010, brought to light, that in terms of media transparency Georgia has moved from 81st to 99th place. In addition various researches assert that a big part of society doesn’t trust journalists any more, blaming them for tendentiousness.
Media surveys conducted in 2009 and 2011 by the
Caucasus Research Resource Center, revealed different results of the
investigation. The rate of distrust increased.
In 2009 46% of the inquired thought there was not a freedom of speech in
Georgian Media. While in 2011 55% doesn’t agree that media is free; 29%
completely agree that Georgian journalists serve interests of government and only
5% deny this fact; also 17% consider that Georgian journalists serve interests
Sometimes Georgian media figuratively resembles three monkeys, expressing “I see nothing. I hear nothing. I say nothing.”
But anyway some journalists and media experts in Georgia try their best to fight for the freedom of the speech for one reason – they long for democracy.