Facts, just facts...
28 October, 2010
Facts, just facts...

World Press Freedom Index Impels Georgian Government to Make Decision


Deteriorating index of Media Freedom for Georgia: the road from the last year’s 81st place to current 100th place

According to the Index of Media Freedom by prominent organization Reporters Without Borders, Georgia has wobbled down the list from 81 to 100. What’s the matter?

What’s wrong about the media rating in the country which the civilized world sees as a successfully developing state for all odds? Let’s look at several

I remember very well events which immediately followed the rose revolution – music played in front of the Parliament, and people danced and hoped for tomorrow – the kind of tomorrow which was supposed to erase demented past and bring about something new. In “the demented past” I meant the previous Government and those individuals who used to cling to their chairs for decades and devastated the populace through corruption and destitution. At the time, I felt a strange smell in front of the Parliament. I thought freedom was coming, special freedom I had never seen before. The smell permeated the whole country like the spring fragrance conveying sensation of something new was unfolding; the real life was coming, known by the name of democracy.
And there was this overarching unity. It was the very time when journalists and politicians, musicians and artists, doctors and teachers – every one of us felt glued together in one unshakable bond. Hence, no one could have imagined at the time that the undoing was coming so fast, that the soulful music born right in front of the Parliament and dedicated to freedom was about to snap abruptly in the nick of time. No one could have thought that just in few years Georgia would be rocketing down to 100th place in the international rating of media freedom. No one used to palpate the looming problem on the body of the country’s political landscape. Its name was restriction of freedoms. This restriction - however paradoxical - was a brainchild of the authors of the rose revolution, those who led the revolution under the flag of freedom.


Facts, just bear facts…

Things took a diabolic turn. It was not a long time since the rose revolution when political talk shows on several TV channels came to a sudden end. Obviously these shows were adored by the people, drawing hundreds of thousands to the screens every evening. Immediately after the violent crackdown on the mass demonstrations, TV Company Imedi was rampaged by Special Forces who broke in without any notice, ordering the journalists to the walls and forcing themselves right into the broadcasting room as watched on by the flabbergasted TV audience live.
Facts, just bear facts…
The owner of the Imedi TV later was found dead. He – Badri Patarkatsishvili - used to be the richest citizen of Georgia. What followed was the reincarnation of the whole TV Imedi team into a political entity. I remember that period very well. These journalists explained that there was no other way but to become politicians and defend the rights of media and the whole society by means of entering the legislative body of the country. It is hard to ascertain whether they managed to live up to their own promises. What is known however – I mean 100 the place given to Georgia in the media freedom rating - may serve as a solid answer to them who still believes in the fruitfulness of the work undertaken by these former journalists.

Many will be lost in the maze of events and fail to fix the right sequence of developments around TV Media due to the complexity that characterized the sudden transfer of the TV property to someone other than the Patarkatsishvili’s family who found themselves devoid of all the legacy rights to the property.
One thing is a fact. The matter is an oddity of its own. Why are descendants of Patarkatsishvil seeking justice beyond Georgia in an attempt to reclaim the media property of their ancestor?

Facts, just bear facts…
In the post-revolution days, on his visit to a foreign country, the President Saakashvili commented that the press was not quite popular in Georgia and advised to a foreign journalist to watch TV instead. Of course, these words caused a rambling uproar. Opponents accused him of discriminating print media. It is hardly possible not to agree with them in this case. Subsequently, the Saakashvili’s statement turned out to have a context because the Authorities continued appropriation of TV stations. Today a large portion of the population agrees with the notion that most of TV channels are controlled by the Authorities. All the previous management teams of these channels were replaced after the rose revolution. Even more, owners of one TV station are so much obscured that information about them cannot be obtained even from the state registers.
“In the Shevardnadze’s era democracy existed on paper at least. Today it disappeared from this paper too,” – these words belong to Irina Sarisvhili, a former leader of National-Democratic Party.
Facts, just bear facts…
Despite this sort of PR assault on the press, the print media still managed to act as an interfering factor for the Authorities. This assumption is confirmed by the recent initiative of the capital municipality to create its own press distribution service. They placed press booths in elite and commercially advantageous spots around the capital and called for newspapers to distribute their products through these booths.
Apart from creating serious problems for people doing business in this sphere, the capital municipality was alleged by opponents of trying to impose control on press in this specific way. Today there is a complete draft legislation which can negate any Governmental control of the press but the Authorities are simply dawdling. As a result, the draft law is shelved.

Facts, just bear facts…
Some time ago, one famous Georgian journalist Vakhtang Komakhidze who used to be engaged basically in journalistic investigations went abroad and asked for a political asylum. It appeared that he did receive it. In his official statement, he indicated harassment from the Authorities as the main reason behind his move to seek an asylum.
There is another serious problem which hinders journalists in their professional activities. This is unavailability of public information. For instance, information about privatization of one strategic facility cannot be obtained even today. The Authorities do not disclose the specifics about how the tender went on, who purchased the facility and for how much, what sort of terms and conditions the contract sets forth, and so forth. It is a fact that the population is entitled to all the information about the facility because it belongs to them. Till now, the Rezonanse newspaper is trying to break the wall, even using a legal action but once again reality remains elusive as evidenced by diverging court decisions.

Facts, just bear facts…
Given a small size of the present article, it is hard to write down all the examples and explain the reality the way it appears on the Media rating of the Reporters without Borders. The reality is a downgraded media freedom in Georgia translating into the whopping 100th place today as opposed to 81th place for the previous year.
“These organizations have different pivots. Reporters Without Borders depict the real picture, which shows stubbornness of the Georgian Authorities in this sphere, which is called media freedom. When for years you are covering up names of owners of TV companies, it is politics. This is politics which exactly is a subject of assessments by the Reporters Without Borders. However, they have a number of specific facts which prove the population is turned into zombies and that journaists are still restricted,” – comments political expert Soso Tsiskarishvili.
It is noteworthy that international organizations have already commented on the matter. Most importantly, it’s the commentary of the Reporters Without Borders itself.
“Our latest world press freedom index contains welcome surprises, highlights sombre realities and confirms certain trends,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said as his organization issued its ninth annual index. “More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand. The defense of media freedom continues to be a battle, a battle of vigilance in the democracies of old Europe and a battle against oppression and injustice in the totalitarian regimes still scattered across the globe.
“We must salute the engines of press freedom, with Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland at their head. We must also pay homage to the human rights activists, journalists and bloggers throughout the world who bravely defend the right to speak out. Their fate is our constant concern. We reiterate our call for the release of Liu Xiaobo, the symbol of the pressure for free speech building up in China, which censorship for the time being is still managing to contain. And we warn the Chinese authorities against taking a road from which there is no way out.
“It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to fall in the index. If it does not pull itself together, the European Union risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights. And if that were to happen, how could it be convincing when it asked authoritarian regimes to make improvements? There is an urgent need for the European countries to recover their exemplary status.
“We are also worried by the harsher line being taken by governments at the other end of the index. Rwanda, Yemen and Syria have joined Burma and North Korea in the group of the world’s most repressive countries towards journalists. This does not bode well for 2011. Unfortunately, the trend in the most authoritarian countries is not one of improvement.”
Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the European Union and the 2010 index confirms this trend. Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th. The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen.
There has been no progress in several countries where Reporters Without Borders pointed out problems. They include, above all, France and Italy, where events of the past year – violation of the protection of journalists’ sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists and their work, and judicial summonses – have confirmed their inability to reverse this trend.


World Press Freedom Index Impels Georgian Government to Make Decision

Government of Georgia voiced its initiation to make media means transparent. On 26 October Chairman of Parliament of Georgia made an announcement at a special briefing. “We will move to higher standards”, said Mr. Bakradze and ordered the Parliament Committee for Legal Issues to draft a corresponding bill in two weeks.
A week earlier, prior to Mr. Bakradze’s new initiation, Georgia was allotted  the 100th place in the rating of Press Freedom Index issued by the international organization “Reporters Without Borders”, in which Georgia was number 81last year.
Finland, topping the list, is followed by Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. From the former Soviet countries Estonia holds the highest, 9th place and the lowest, 176 belongs to Turkmenistan.

As expected, Mr. Bakradze’s initiation was welcomed by President Saakashvili. “The initiation corresponds the new wave of democratic reforms voiced by Mikheil Saakashvili at the UN tribune”, Manana Manjgaladze, Spokesperson for the President, said. 
In his declaration, Speaker of Georgian Parliament stressed that the government will work out a transparency standard similar to those in the USA and Great Britain, though he said nothing about the standards of the countries topping the Press Freedom Index 2010.
“We must salute the engines of press freedom, with Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland at their head”, Jean-Francois Julliard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders said; adding:

“It is disturbing to see several European Union member countries continuing to lag behind in the index”. 
Immediately after Bakradze’s briefing, Kakha Bekauri, Director General of “Maestro TV” addressed the Chairman:  “I appeal to Davit Bakradze to name the owners of TV “Rustavi 2” and “Imedi TV”. It is a fact that the government knows the owners of TV-companies, controlled by them”.
Mr. Bekauri belives the government is obliged to identify the owners of off-shore companies, registered in Panama and reckons that Mr. Bakradze’s initiation is another trick of the government.
Lasha Tughushi, Editor-in-Chief of Georgian newspaper “Resonance”, says that transparency and identification of the owners of all media means is of utmost importance and that international institutions also find it interesting.

“Our current situation is uncomfortable; clandestine TV owners are unacceptable. Society should know who holds media means. To obtain required information from off-shore zones are rather difficult. I reckon that off-shore zone theme must be eliminated altogether in Georgian media”, Mr. Tughushi said and added, “Besides, it is also interesting, who finances TV companies and how their funds are attracted”. 

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