Investigative bodies’ practice of asking journalists to reveal their sources looms large
Transparency International Georgia responds to the law enforcement bodies’ practice of summoning media representatives for questioning, which has become more frequent in the recent period and during which journalists are asked to identify the sources they mention in the stories they prepare. Such actions on the part of the law enforcement bodies are contrary to the local and international standards and hamper the work of the media.
On 2 August, Davit Kashiashvili, journalist of the Formula TV company, was at the Ministry of Internal Affairs where he was questioned about the story he had prepared a few days earlier concerning the new details in the case of Tamar Bachiashvili who died under suspicious circumstances. According to the story, Bachiashvili, who was a programmer, opened secret files containing compromising materials on three Georgian high-ranking officials. The investigative body had questions to the journalists, including about the identity of the source of the details mentioned in the story.
Nika Gvaramia, General Director of Mtavari Arkhi [TV channel], was called in for questioning for the same reason: because of the material prepared about the death of young footballer Giorgi Shakarashvili under unexplained circumstances. According to the information that the TV channel obtained from its source, involved in the “cover-up” of Shakarashvili’s case was one Avtandil Bilanishvili, who, according to the channel, is a friend of the son of Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
Further, on account of the story about the possible murder of Mtavari Arkhi presenter Giorgi Gabunia, TV Pirveli journalists Nodar Meladze and Maka Chikhladze were called in for questioning by the State Security Service. Questions about the source of information were asked this time as well. It was suggested in the story that the name of the person that the State Security Service detained for preparing a premeditated contract killing of Gabunia was not, in fact, Vasambek Bokoyev and he was using someone else’s passport.
It should be noted that none of the journalists questioned by the investigative bodies revealed their sources.
According to the recommendation by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, protection of journalists' sources of the information constitutes a basic condition for journalistic work and freedom as well as for the freedom of the media
According to the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia, a journalist is not under the obligation to serve as a witness when information obtained in the process of professional activities is concerned. Correspondingly, a journalist has no obligation to reveal his or her sources.
The fact that summoning journalists for questioning by law enforcement bodies has recently become a more frequent occurrence involves a risk of self-censorship being established. As a result, a media representative may, in the future, avoid working on an important topic despite strong public interest in such issues. On the other hand, increased interest in identifying the sources on the part of the investigative bodies also creates a danger that the sources will stop cooperating with the journalists in the future and will not provide them with information.
We are calling on the law enforcement bodies to be more responsible and careful when dealing with the issues related to journalists’ sources and to let the media perform their professional duties freely.