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We have to free the media, say professionals

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, November 13
A civil society seminar on media freedom was hosted by the Courtyard Marriott hotel on November 10-11. The seminar provided an opportunity for European and Georgian civil society representatives, academics and Government officials to discuss human rights topics and how to enhance the protection of human rights.

The seminar was led by Maia Mikashavidze, Dean of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management, who presented the main topic of the seminar and recorded the recommendations made.

Francois Massoulie, Political Counsellor of the European Commission to Georgia, expressed his pleasure at seeing the first EU-Georgian civil society seminar on media freedom. “Human rights are the one of the cornerstones on which the EU-Georgian partnership is based. The first session of our dialogue on human rights took place in Tbilisi in April this year. During this both sides agreed to hold a dedicated civil society seminar in Tbilisi ahead of the second round of dialogue, which will take place in Brussels on December 16, 2009.

“The main objective of this seminar is to invite EU and Georgian media experts and professionals to assess and discuss the situation and challenges in Georgia, with a view to developing recommendations for us – the EU and the Georgian Government representatives who are participating in official Human Rights Dialogue,” the Counsellor stated.

Massoulie further stressed that media freedom is very high on the overall EU-Georgia agenda and the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan emphasises the importance of ensuring freedom of the media and the proper implementation of laws on broadcasting as well as freedom of speech and expression. “Our 2008 assessment of Georgia’s progress in the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan stresses that media freedom and pluralism in Georgia remain areas of concern, notably following the disruption of the operations of Imedi TV, the only independent TV station with national coverage, in 2007,” Massoulie said. However he also mentioned that Georgia has gone up 39 places in the media freedom rankings since the last report and is now in 81st place among 175 countries, whereas the situation has deteriorated in almost all the other former Soviet Republics. “Georgia is to be congratulated for its substantial leap in the media freedom index, but this doesn’t give it any reason to relax and there is still room for improvement in the country,” he concluded.

Alexander Nalbandov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, thanked the representatives from Georgia and Europe for their important role in the promotion of democracy and its values in Georgia and discussed the main points of the Georgian media system. The Deputy Minister stressed the importance of protecting the rights of journalists on the basis of the Law of Freedom of Speech and Expression and concluded that the Government of Georgia has abolished State control of television and created a situation in which broadcasting entities are managed by Georgian citizens.

Ana Karlsreiter, Adviser to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, spoke about media freedom as an important component of democracy. She emphasised that Georgia is the only country in the South Caucasus Region which has recorded considerable advances in pluralism and democracy according to official reports but also mentioned aspects which still have to be improved such as the transparency of media ownership, professional skills and attitudes etc.

Tamar Karosanidze, Executive Director of Transparency International Georgia, revealed that in most cases the owners of TV stations are either Georgian Government members or members of their families. Karosanidze also raised the problem of professionalism among journalists and named several figures who have been appointed to positions in particular media organisations despite not having any prior media background.

Kakhi Kurashvili, Head of the Georgian National Communication Commission, discussed electronic media. He stressed that the number of internet consumers in Georgia has reached a million, meaning that the internet has become an important segment of the media space. He also spoke problems with broadcasting accreditation and the criteria for it, such as coverage, innovations etc. “The Commission adopted a Code of Behaviour in March 2009 which aimed to ensure impartiality, transparency, editorial independence, equality and tolerance in the media and the distribution of true information to the public,” Kurashvili stated.

Hans Gutbort, Director of the Caucasus Research Resource Centre, presented an interesting survey about the views of the Georgian population about TV and radio stations and newspapers. This showed that television is the most important social medium, the main source from which people obtain information. Radio and newspapers are also necessary but TV contains both images and sound, making it more enjoyable to engage with. According to European experts relevant regulation is needed the ensure media freedom, as are a well-run supervisory board and proper financing, which will help an outlet counter the influence of particular political figures. Everyone at the seminar agreed that the experience of the BBC is very profitable for Georgian media freedom as it is a symbol of high standards in journalism.

International representatives gave their recommendations about media freedom in Georgia. They all presented particular situations in their homelands, stressing there are media freedom problems throughout the world but suggesting that it’s up to Georgia to establish both a Code of Behaviour and legislation to ensure transparency of ownership.

Levan Gakheladze, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, divided broadcasting problems into legislative and systemic ones. “Public Broadcasting has overcome particular problems but we are unfortunately still waiting for editorial and financial independence,” he said.

On the second day of seminar the guests discussed the main principles of professionalism and self-regulation. Oleg Panfilov, Director of the Centre for Extreme Journalism, spoke to The Messenger about this before the seminar. “There are two main factors which ensure freedom of the media in any country: proper legislation and journalists from a society that understand the meaning of freedom of the media. There is wonderful soil in which to develop journalism in Georgia, if proper education is given and their division into Government and opposition supporters, which causes constant scandal in the media, ceases. The only aim of the media should be to inform people about things so that they themselves could draw their own conclusions about them,” Panfilov stated.

Every participant of the seminar agreed that the main principles for ensuring Georgian media freedom included the training of media outlet owners, to guarantee the further professionalism of their employees, freeing them from any political bias, guaranteeing financial independence and ensuring cooperation between the media and the population to ensure that absolutely truthful information is disseminated.