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Georgia, still not "Free", moves up on press freedom ranking

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, May 2
Georgia is ranked 111 out of 197 countries in Freedom House's Global Press Freedom Ranking, moving up seven places in the list of "party free" territories.

According to the report, progress was achieved by the establishment of new publications, issuance of a broadcast license to a media group that is critical of the government, and the enforcement of new requirements on transparency of ownership.

Press Freedom in 2011: Breakthrough and Pushback in the Middle East was published yesterday. It celebrates the fact that “for the first time in eight years, global media freedom did not experience an overall decline”; however, “due to downgrades in some previously free countries” the percentage of countries with a fully free press has fallen.

Sixty-six countries were rated Free, 72 were rated Partly Free, and 59 were rated Not Free.

Coming 17th in Central and Eastern Europe, Georgia (alongside Kosovo and Montenegro) was one of the only countries with “notable improvements” in the region. Hungary and Macedonia both underwent large score declines, and Ukraine’s score also dropped. In Russia, new media made some progress in mitigating the government’s near-complete grip on major broadcast outlets, but these gains have yet to be consolidated.

Despite “obstacles and reversals” press freedom has experienced in many parts of the world, Georgia was among the countries which registered progress together with Nepal, Sierra Lione and Togo.

As David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House, said “Of great concern are those countries, both in the Middle East and around the world, where authoritarian regimes are now on the defensive, creating an even more perilous situation for journalists”. According to Karin Karlekar, Project Director of Freedom of the Press, threats to media freedom often have a direct correlation with the country’s overall democratic performance.

The world’s eight worst-rated countries are Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They have either no independent media or their existing outlets are barely able to operate. According to the report, the press in those nations act “as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression".

The Freedom of the Press index assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world every year through an examination of three broad categories: the legal environment in which media operate; political influences on reporting and access to information; and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news.

Ratings reflect not just government actions and policies, but the behavior of the press itself in testing boundaries, even in more restrictive environments, as well as the impact of non-state actors.

Speaking of the importance of the results in general, Chair of the Journalism Ethics Charter Council, Zviad Koridze, said that Georgian media outlets still face oppression from the government and the rights of journalist are regularly violated.