12 May, 2011

Special report from Washington

At the Conference dedicated to World Press Freedom Day 2011, which took place in the United States on May 1-6, Freedom House made a presentation of its findings of annual Freedom of the Press index, where Georgia got a status of a partially free country.

We were lucky to meet Karin Karlekar, Senior Editor of Freedom House to find out her opinion – whether having a partially free media means to be a partially democratic country.



During the last two days here in Washington D.C. we have been hearing tremendous figures about the journalists who have been killed, imprisoned, tortured or assaulted. In some cases governmental involvements in such actions are obvious and it hampers to reveal the real initiators. How often Freedom House is involved in investigations of such cases?
A. You are absolutely right. Rather often governments are responsible for such cases of attacks or in worst cases - of murders. When it happens we encourage governments and really urge them to prosecute and investigate the cases properly because the issue of impunity is a very big problem for a number of countries around the world. So the governments must be sure that their legal system and judicial system function appropriately and properly in order to investigate these cases.
Q. Do you agree that, on the one hand, we cannot achieve democracy without the freedom of press and, on other hand, we cannot get freedom of press without democracy?
A. Definitely! I mean if we look at democracy in terms of your elections, Georgia does have it already but if you look at democracy in terms of whole echo systems that help democracy, than press freedom is really a central element of a strong democracy. I mean that the press, at its first function, is a watchdog; it helps uncover corruption, hold the government accountable and get closer to people. You know, all these are important to create a strong, stable and healthy democracy. On the other hand, it’s also very difficult to have freedom of press without having a democratic government that is willing to uphold press freedom. We see many cases around the world that the governments, which have no freedom of press, usually are very poorly trained.  However, many countries in the world do their elections in terms of press freedom;   hence, to create democracy it’s very important to have media freedom too and governments should respect press freedom.
Q. Yesterday Freedom House made a presentation of the findings of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press index, where Georgia received a partially free status. Does it mean that in terms of democracy Georgia is a partially democratic country?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. And what are the steps Georgia should take to get the status of free media?
A. Actually, in terms of media freedom Georgia already has, I would say, a pretty good legal framework and media transparency is an ongoing issue in the country; though it’s a fact that it’s very difficult to find correct and accurate information about media owners and particularly in electronic media and as examples, Imedi and Public Television come to mind. I believe they will look into these issues. The Parliament was debating the issues of legislation on media transparency and this is also a very positive step. As to the cases of harassments and attacks on journalists, we don’t see as many cases as before. And I would really focus on regulatory issues at the moment and I believe that this is an area where the government could do something positive and has the power to do it; I would encourage Georgia to move along the path. Georgia is very important for us. Today your country is far from free category in terms of its numerical ranking but taking into account that Georgia is doing much better than many of its neighbors and together with Ukraine this is one of the best performing countries among the former Soviet Union Republics (Actually, Ukraine lags a bit behind), we believe Georgia is going in the right direction and we encourage the government to respect media freedom that will keep Georgia on the right path.  
May 3, 2011.
Washington D.C.