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Freedom House Rep underlines the problem of media outlets representing political parties

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, July 11
The anchor of Georgian private broadcaster Rustavi 2 Giorgi Gabunia has insulted Russian President Vladimir Putin on his live show P.S. on July 8. Top Georgian state figures have called the step a “very dangerous provocation.” Demonstrators gathered in the vicinity of the Rustavi 2 broadcaster’s office, calling on the channel Director General Nika Gvaramia and T.V. anchor Gabunia to resign as they put every Georgian citizen under threat – Gvaramia, who also criticized monologue mentioned above, announced that Gabunia will not be able to air his show for two months. It’s also noteworthy that Nino Nizharadze, the owner of 9% share of Rustavi 2 is demanding Gvaramia’s resignation, arguing that he is harming the T.V. company. The demand was to be discussed at the meeting of partners in the evening of July 10.

Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze stated that the television message was a provocation containing the threat to peace and security of Georgia. “Whatever we have observed today on Rustavi2 is nothing but a disgusting act of provocation and an attempt to destabilize our country. Something totally unacceptable!” – Twitted the PM.

President Zourabichvili also condemned hate speech, verbal aggression, insults and provocative statements made on Rustavi 2. According to her post, “They go against all Georgian traditions, serve only to divide and raise tensions in the country, with Russia, and in the region.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs also shared the announcement on social network: “We strongly condemn the expressions used by Rustavi 2 T.V., which have nothing to do with freedom of speech and are a pure provocation aimed at further complicating the existing situation in Georgia-Russia relations.” The statement address international community as well urging organizations relating to the freedom of the press to assess the T.V. company and in particular, Gabunia, who, as said in the appeal, had been “ignorant of international professional norms and standards.”

Later on, when asked about the ministry's statement, F.A. minister Zalkaliani answered: “Who would be responsible for hundreds of thousands of Georgians living in Russia if anything happened to them… In the situation in which the country was found because of irresponsible, provocative and destructive statements made by certain people and supporting organization, the country could have faced the hardest results”. Zalkaliani believes that the reaction of MFA and the entire government was timely, precise and adequate and refuses to accept any criticism for that.

Overall the statement was assessed as a disgusting and provocative attempt to destabilize the country. The members of the opposition didn’t support Gabunia’s language either; however, they also disliked calling Rustavi 2’s journalist’s behavior pro-Russian and criticized the government’s harsh reactions.

President of Russia, Vladimir Putin commented that it would be a great honor for journalist Gabunia to start a criminal process against him and some officials even demand his extradition to Russia.

Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia programs at international human rights organization Freedom House, has assessed the reaction of the Georgian and Russian authorities and the Georgian media environment after Giorgi Gabunia’s monologue.

“If the freedom of expression allows Gabunia to make such an unprofessional comment, it also allows politicians or the public to react, even too strictly. If the freedom of expression allows someone to insult me, even in very severe forms, then it also allows me to say how insulted I am. I do not think that the authorities abused their right to express their opinion”, Marc Behrendt said, adding that he could not see signs of attempts by the government to restrict the freedom of expression. According to him, in Georgia, there’s one of the freest media-environments.

“The problem in Georgia is not the censorship from the state, but that the media outlets allowed themselves to become the representatives of different political parties” – said Behrendt.

As for Rustavi 2’s reaction, according to Marc Behrendt, they made an appropriate and correct decision. “The media outlet (as well as the large journalistic community) must implement professional and ethical standards, not the state,” said Freedom House Representative.

Behrendt assessed Russia’s reaction as outrageous:” Gabunia’s comment may not have been professional or thoughtful, but it was not illegal. Any kind of persecution slogans is unacceptable in democrat society. The difference between Russia and Georgia is that no matter how insulted people might be by story or article, nobody has a fear of detention.”