2007: Freedom of The Press – Gerogia Review
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 13
Political Environment: 27
Economic Environment: 17
Total Score: 57
The constitution and the Law on Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantee press freedom, but these rights were increasingly restricted by the government throughout 2006. The restrictions rarely took the form of direct pressure, although there were some reports of harassment and physical abuse of journalists by government officials. Instead, the government has failed to properly implement legislation, including freedom of information laws. The Georgian National Communications Commission in 2006 prepared a controversial draft broadcasting bill that in its original form would have made ethical standards, including a dress code and use of language, legally binding on journalists. The draft bill also required journalists to receive formal permission before airing live footage and limited journalists’ ability to use anonymous sources. The vote on the bill was postponed until April 2007. If adopted, it would pose a serious threat to press freedom in Georgia.
While there is still a diverse range of media outlets in Georgia, including a number that criticize the government openly, media owners and managers continue to exert pressure on journalists in an effort to maintain amicable ties with the authorities. As a result, journalists frequently practice self-censorship. The government in turn remains particularly critical and intolerant of the media, leading to an overall decrease in media independence since the 2003 Rose Revolution. For example, Rustavi-2, formerly known as an independent and investigative television station, has become less critical and cut back its political programming. A Rustavi-2 talk-show host, Eka Khoperia, resigned on the air in July, citing government attempts to influence her treatment of a story concerning the implication of Ministry of the Interior employees in the murder of a bank official. In August, other Rustavi-2 staff staged a boycott and a strike to protest the reportedly political dismissal of the station’s general director and the appointment of a government ally to replace him; several journalists resigned in September.
Separately, the Ministry of Defense continued its practice of banning critical journalists from public events. There were reports of harassment and violence against journalists, and a sense of impunity prevailed in the country, particularly with regard to crimes committed against journalists. Media freedom is legally guaranteed in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the separatist authorities in both areas restricted media outlets and journalists.
The low profitability of media outlets, as well as their lack of economic independence, left them vulnerable to economic and political pressure in 2006; print publications were particularly at risk. Government officials have attempted to channel advertising away from critical independent outlets. Very few independent newspapers were commercially viable, and most papers depended on subsidies and patronage, but print media on the whole presented a diverse range of views. U.S.-based News Corporation became a majority owner of Imedi television in 2006, which was expected to increase the station’s independence. The independent television station 202 suspended broadcasting in October after a 2005 extortion scandal damaged its reputation and income. There were no restrictions on internet usage, but the percentage of the population accessing this medium was low at 4 percent.