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Georgian press ranked as Partly Free by Freedom House

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, May 4
New York based human rights group Freedom House has released its Freedom of the Press 2009 survey, which ranks Georgia in 128th place as one of the countries with a ‘Partly Free’ press. According to Freedom House Georgia ranks alongside Egypt, Guatemala and Kenya and has maintained the same position as last year.

The report suggests that Central and Eastern Europe/the former Soviet Union has suffered the biggest reduction in press freedom of any region since last year, “with journalists murdered in Bulgaria and Croatia and assaulted in Bosnia.” Russia’s score has declined due to the judiciary being unwilling to protect journalists from attacks, and the independent media being frequently targeted by regulators.

The Georgian media has reported that the authors of the survey have noted that the international media is not oppressed in Georgia. “Due to different reasons the media in Georgia is now exactly on the edge of Partly Free and Not Free. Georgia differs from its neighbours in that it has managed to maintain domestic TV broadcasting and independent channels and at the same time has a wide network of international broadcasting, unlike many of its neighbours, which have created difficulties for international broadcasters,” Interpressnews has quoted the co-author of the Freedom House report, Christopher Walker, as saying. “The situation in Georgia is concerning, but it remains a state which is doing better in this field than other post-Soviet countries apart from the Baltic States,” Walker added.

Journalist and media expert Ia Antadze suggests that the August war greatly contributed to Georgia’s press freedom rankings in the Freedom House report. She says that it is “common” that when a country is at war media freedom is restricted to some degree, but no special decree restricting the media was issued in Georgia at that time. However Antadze says that the media freedom situation is not the same in both broadcast and print media. “The major TV channels, which broadcast throughout Georgia, are tightly controlled by the Government,” Antadze says, noting that this leads to other negative consequences. “This is why we got the results we got in the elections and a one-party Parliament, which makes amendments to the Constitution unilaterally and which in the end has led us to political crisis,” she adds.

Antadze notes that there are some media outlets which are more free than the major TV companies, mainly print media outlets, especially in Georgia’s regions, as well as some radio stations. However, Antadze notes that these exceptions do not really alter the overall picture. “These small newspapers have little circulation and thus are not able to influence public opinion in the country. Meanwhile big TV companies, broadcasting in all the regions of Georgia, remain oppressed,” she suggests.

According to Antadze, journalists themselves should strive to create a better media environment in the country. She said a “self-regulatory mechanism” should be created which will help the public to distinguish journalists who are fair and professional from those who are not able to meet Western standards of reporting. “We are working intensively with the help of the European Council and European Union to create such a healthy system of self regulation,” Antadze has told The Messenger.

Freedom House ranked 70 countries out of a total of 195 as free, 61 as partly free and the remaining 64 as not free. The report lists Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan among the worst-rated countries, saying that “the level of media freedom in these countries remained stagnant in 2008, despite hope that the internet and new media might provide openings in the media environment.” The survey, released in advance of Word Press Freedom Day on May 3, suggested that “there were twice as many losses as gains in 2008.”

The survey also said that parts of South Asia and Africa made progress. The Maldives made notable improvements, thus moving to the Partly Free category and “Guyana regained its Free rating with fewer attacks on journalists and a Government decision to lift a boycott on advertising in the main independent newspaper.” Freedom House has assessed the degree of print, broadcast and internet freedom in every country in the world since 1980.