Pressure on regional media
Over the past two years there have been over 15 cases of pressure on regional media by both the central and local government. Transparency International Georgia has always expressed its position where information on cases of pressure could be confirmed and verified. We consider these cases as indicative of a dangerous tendency. We believe that if this tendency continues, there is a huge risk that regional media may be hampered in the fulfillment of their work for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Transparency International Georgia has analyzed various media sources to collect information on cases of pressure on regional media outlets and journalists. TI Georgia has also spoken with several representatives of regional media outlets. Given the scope of the endeavor, we were naturally unable to document every single case of pressure on journalists or infringement into their line of work. Nevertheless, the examples provided below show that public officials and civil servants do not fully understand the role of independent media. As a result, they are inadequately responding to critical journalism.
According to our findings, the most frequent victims of pressure are journalists in the regions of Adjara and Kakheti. Cases of pressure have also been documented in Guria, Imereti, Samegrelo, Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Five cases of pressure on local media were observed in Kakheti from 2014to2015. The founder and editor of Kakheti Information Centre, Gela Mtivlishvili, has faced the most pressure for his journalism work.
At a press conference on July 4, 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, accused the editor of Kakheti Information Centre, Gela Mtivlishvili, of circulating lies. The Prime Minister also referred to Mtivlishvili as a person affiliated with the United National Movement (UNM).
“Gela Mtivlishvili spread lies that a member of my family visited Akhmeta and a supra was set out for him at the cost of the budget. This is a lie! How long will the circulation of lies and UNM’s biddings last? I know that you are friends with Gviniashvili [here the Prime Minister addresses Gela Mtivlishvili], but you cannot simply fulfill all of his orders!” - the Prime Minister said at a meeting with journalists.
Following this incident, a number of public officials posted derogatory Facebook statuses addressed to Mtivlishvili. The authors of the statuses were the Head of the Public Relations Unit of the Georgian Oil & Gas Corporation, Nino Jgarkava, and Tato Margebadze, Kakheti’s regional prosecutor. The opinions expressed by the public officials denigrated the journalist’s dignity.
It is worth noting that this wasn’t the first case when public officials openly expressed their displeasure towards a journalist. Similar derogatory comments were directed to Mtivlishvili on June 3rd 2015 as well. On this day Mtivlishvili published an article on the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Tamaz Tamazishvili.
On July 28, 2015, Gela Mtivlishvili also received threats on Facebook from the advisor to the Defense Minister, Imeda Darsalia.
“Mtivlishvili, you rude! You have been out of line for quite a while now and you will get a punch in the jaw for your rudeness! First learn how to be polite and then speak to the readers!” - this public status was posted on Defense Minister advisor’s, Imeda Darcalia’s, personal Facebook page.
Darsalia’s anger was sparked by Gela Mtivlishvili’s posts where the latter said that he had been blocked by the Defense Ministry’s Facebook page and that his comments had been removed. The public official also remarked that he had no interest in his duty to be tolerant.
The editor of Kakheti Information Centre has spoken about pressure from the Kakheti governor, Irakli Shiolashvili. In an interview to Liberali in April of 2015, Mtivlishvili spoke about the decrease of advertisement revenues. Mtivlishvili asserted that Shiolashvili had prohibited businessmen from buying advertising space from the Kakheti Information Centre.
In August 2015, Mtivlishvili took the Governor of Kakheti to court over the aforementioned allegations. In return, the Governor of Kakheti accused Mtivlishvili of blackmail and money extortion.
Shiolashvili’s statement was preceded by Mtivlishvili’s TV report, concerning the misuse of budget for private gain by the Governor’s father.
Transparency International Georgia has responded to the incident that occurred on October 2nd in Lagodekhi with the journalist of Radio Hereti. During the session of the Lagodekhi Municipality City Council, the chairperson of the City Council, Goderdzi Barbaqadze, remarked loudly to Radio Hereti’s journalist, Sopho Saralidze, that she broadcast the issue of re-roofing houses following the flood damages in Lagodekhi. Barbaqadze rebuked and reprimanded Saralidze several times during the session of the City Council.
Transparency International Georgia has noted several cases of hampering journalism work in Adjara.
On September 1, 2015, an employee of Adjara’s Ministry of Agriculture verbally and physically abused Adjara’s Public Broadcaster’s journalist at the wine factory in Qeda.
According to the Broadcaster, at the time of the incident the journalist was setting up a time for an interview with a representative of the Ministry. According to Mirza Suqnishvili, the journalist was intoxicated. This accusation was later proven false by head of the Broadcaster’s information department, Shorena Glonti. As stated by Glonti, alcohol tests that were conducted on the same day came back negative for the journalist, reporter and operator. The Broadcaster addressed the prosecutor’s office and requested that this incident be investigated. According to an order issued by the Chairperson of Adjara’s Government, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Avtandil Meskhidze, will be suspended until the disciplinary committee finishes its investigation.
On September 30, an unknown person stole a car belonging to Adjara’s Public Broadcaster and Radio. The broadcaster’s journalist, Nino Inaishvili, notified the police about the theft. Following hours of interrogation, the head of Kobuleti police, Zakaria Gurchiani, met with Inaishvili in the yard and demanded that she change her testimony. According to information by Batumelebi, the alleged culprit and his lawyer were present in the yard as well. Moreover, as noted by Batumelebi, throughout the night the journalist was subject to pressure from several different persons who demanded that she change her testimony.
On August 25, 2015, member of the Kobuleti City Council, Iveri Gugunava, blamed the newspaper Batumelebi of allying with the Free Democrats party. The reasoning behind Gugunava’s accusation was the fact that the Batumelebi circulated the Free Democrats’ party newspaper as part of its commercial services.
In 2014, one of the most well-known cases of pressure on a journalist in the Adjara region was connected to deputy of Adjara’s Supreme Council, Medea Vasadze. The deputy threatened the journalist of TV Channel 25, Jaba Ananidze, after the latter’s film ‘Highest Comfort’ was broadcast. The film concerned the expenses of deputies of Adjara’s Supreme Council.
Following the release of the film, a Facebook page was created and photos/videos denigrating the dignity of journalist Jaba Ananidze were posted on the page. To investigate this incident, the executive director of TV 25, Giorgi Surmanidze, addressed the police on June 12th and requested that the authors of the FB page be identified. Following this incident, a number of non-governmental organizations and journalists requested that Medea Vasadze be fired from her position.
Several cases of pressure on journalists have been observed in Guria. In July 2014, a journalist from Guria News, Jana Megrelishvili, faced verbal abuse via telephone by the Mayor of Ozurgeti, Beglar Sioridze.
In February 2014, the same journalist had a confrontation with the Gamgebeli of Ozurgeti Municipality, Tornike Sharashenidze. The journalist posed an unwanted question and the Gamgebeli responded with verbal abuse. Sharashenidze has apologized for the incident.
In September 2015, the correspondent of Maestro TV, Irakli Vachiberadze, pointed out a case of pressure on a journalist. According to Vachiberadze, he was drawn aside by the Head of Ministry of Interior’s Guria’s Regional Main Division, Koba Cercvadze, who proceeded to demand explanations from the journalist.
Newspaper Chemi Kharagauli also spoke of instances of pressure from public officials. In December 2014, the chairperson of the council faction Georgian Dream-For a Democratic Georgia, Varlam Kharazashvili, through the Akhali Kharagauli newspaper, referred to Chemi Kharagauli as a biased publication. According to Kharazashvili, the newspaper ‘served party interests, namely Nodar Ebanoidze and his Republican Party”. These accusations were followed by a confrontation at the city council bureau session between the editor of the Chemi Kharagauli, Laura Gogoladze, Kharazashvili and Gamgebeli of Kharagauli, Koba Lursmanashvili.
Qvemo Qartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti
On March 27, 2015, the journalists of Trialeti TV wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister of Georgia. The letter concerned the pressure on journalists from the regional government’s side. The journalists asked the Prime Minister to study and react to the facts of pressure on the work of TV companies.
“In spite of the statements by the government that the media is free, we can freely state that this a lie at the example of our region and our TV companies! Trialeti TV is facing pressure from the regional government! From the day of his appointment as the Governor of Shida Kartli, Zurab Rusishvili is attacking using the same methods as the previous government!” - the open letter reads.
Trialeti TV circulated the open letter after the Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, referred to a question by Trialeti’s journalist as defamatory. The question concerned the activities of Governor Zurab Rusishvili and was posed to the Prime Minister at a press conference on March 26, 2015. The Prime Minister labelled the question as defamatory and called upon the Governor to request an apology and take the journalist to court over spreading of false information. On March 26, Rusishvili requested that Trialeti TV make an apology.
In December 2014, the Samkhretis Karibche publication was the centre of attention. According to a statement made by the employees of Samkhretis Karibche, they were faced with pressure following the publication of an article on December 8.
The article stated that a family member of one of the defendants accused the head of the district police of physical abuse. According to Nino Narimanishvili, the newspaper’s editor, an employee of the PR department of the Ministry of Interior requested that the title of the article be changed. The newspaper refused to comply with this demand.
On December 11, a number of people from the village of Gogoshena held a demonstration. The participants of the demonstration, including the relatives of the victims, accused the newspaper of misrepresenting the facts. It is important to note that the family did not express any complaints to the newspaper and the journalists during the time period of July-December 2014, when the newspaper reported pressure from the police.
According to the statement by the editor, the journalists were subject to various types of pressure after the demonstration. The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics called on the General Inspection of the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office to immediately investigate the incident.
Transparency International Georgia continues to observe the media environment in the country and actively cooperates with central and regional media outlets. We believe that society should be immediately informed of any instances of pressure on journalists and their work. It is unacceptable for public officials, representatives of government, and civil servants to hamper journalists in their professional line of work. It is important to note that the aggressive attitude of high-level political figures from the central government and influential politicians give a bad example to local self-governments and representatives. To prevent the tendency of pressure on journalists, we call on law enforcement agencies to guarantee a safe work environment for journalists and swiftly react to any instances of pressure on journalists.