Freedom House thinks Georgia has improved
By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, July 1Freedom House drew attention to discussions about the Georgian State Constitution in its annual survey Nations in Transit (NIT) published on June 29. The survey states that there has been an increasing divergence between the standards enumerated in the present constitution and actual political practice and this is why a new constitution needs to be adopted based on consensus between the major political parties, interested individuals and the general public.
NIT discussed the initiative to set up the State Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution. This Presidential initiative was welcomed by the Parliamentary opposition but most non-Parliamentary parties ruled out their participation. An alternative public constitutional commission was created through cooperation with civil organisations but no general principles for its draft have been defined, although the State Commission has held regular working sessions.
“The President has voiced his preference for a strong Presidential system but also stated that he would be willing to limit his power to dissolve Parliament. According to President Saakashvili an effective Presidential system is important for Georgia especially at a time “when a great part of the country is occupied”. However the alternative commission supports the Parliamentary model,” said the survey, wondering whether there is a deadline for producing the final draft, how the new constitution will be adopted (with or without a referendum) and when it will come into effect. NIT hoped that the upcoming year will clarify to what extent the Georgian Government is willing to implement all the reforms initiated by the President.
The fight against corruption, according to NIT, is one of the most successful achievements of the Georgian Government, which has effectively eradicated low-level corruption in the public services since 2004. But Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index showed that corruption has fallen only slightly in Georgia, as it is ranked 66th out of 180 countries with a score of 4.1. NIT said that public opinion in Georgia is strongly against corruption and the media is free to report on corruption issues, giving the example of the extensive reports about the arrest of officials accused of corruption or abuse of office. “The Government established a new council to update the anti-corruption strategy and action plan signed by the President in 2005. In addition it continued to conduct a liberal economic policy during 2009 and announced a new wave of economic liberalisation measures. Some legal loopholes remain in the procurement and privatisation systems regarding the transparency of the process and access to information,” said the report.
Georgia’s media landscape, consisting of national, regional and online television stations and national, regional and local newspapers is the one of the most developed in the South Caucasus but is particularly dominated by the televised media. Georgian legislation ensures freedom of the press, the protection of journalists from oppression from state or non-state actors and is considered to be fully in line with international standards. But investigative journalism has almost disappeared in recent years, although it was quite important for the major television stations in the first half on 2009. In Reporters Without Border’s 2009 Press Freedom Index Georgia’s position improved from 120th to 81st but the country has seriously fallen in the Media Sustainability Index of the International Research and Exchange Board.
Freedom House says that the major media challenges nowadays remain transparency of ownership, editorial independence and lack of professionalism. It says newspapers play a minor role in providing access to information but the role of radio and weekly newspapers is increasing. The question of the ownership of major independent TV stations remains problematic, despite the fact that information on the companies owning the stations has become public. None of the media associations are strong enough to unite the politically divided media community.
The effectiveness of Georgia’s internal democratic institutions will play an important role in building coalitions and conducting rational dialogue with the ruling party as well as shaping the international position of Georgia. Any failure to show substantial progress in this respect will decrease the international community’s interest and engagement in promoting solutions to Georgia’s problems.
Akaki Minashvili, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Parliament, said that the rate of corruption has significantly decreased in Georgia over the last few years. “The Freedom House annual survey has recorded the success of Georgia in fighting corruption and the important functional and technical reforms which have been undertaken within the country. The indicators of corruption have decreased so much that the country is listed among the other successful states which have dealt with this problem,” Minashvili said, thanking the opposition members for their participation in the political processes. “The NIT has stressed that Georgia has grown politically and the crisis in the country has been overcome by Government and opposition representatives together. The gaps in the media are simply connected with editorial policy, as the media is definitely free in expression in our country,” Minashvili concluded.
Media expert Ia Antadze told The Messenger. “Everyone knows what the situation really is in the Georgian media sector and the country as a whole. The fact that we have TV, radio and online or press media doesn’t mean that they are all free from political bias. The media sources not controlled by the Government are not available throughout the country. The day Gigi Ugulava was nominated as Mayor of Tbilisi was the same day on which the New Rights received the confirmation of the authenticity of the voice recording of the Imedi TV bosses talking about the hoax news report of a Russian invasion on March 13. The recording proved that President Saakashvili knew about this report in advance, but no attention was given to this while a 23-minute report on the programme of Gigi Ugulava was screened several times during that day,” Antadze said, stressing that this is just one example out of hundreds of the violation of media rights in our country.
Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze said that the Freedom House report has proved that the Government of Georgia is simply good at cooperating with the West. Referring to the State Constitutional Commission, Sakvarelidze said that what the Georgian public doesn't consider a step towards democracy seems to be appreciated by the West. “The creation of the Commission to gain the West’s approval appears to have been a wise step for the Government of Georgia. The rate of corruption seems to be the same it was in 2000 according to the survey. This does not reflect the elite corruption which is so much talked about, but low-level corruption still exists in our country. Nevertheless the Freedom House survey is a wonderful PR for the Government of Georgia because it says that the rate of democracy, election environment and freedom of the media have been somehow improved,” said the analyst.