There Is No Need for Additional Media Regulation – Media Advocacy Coalition Responds to Kakhi Bekauri’s Statement - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

There Is No Need for Additional Media Regulation – Media Advocacy Coalition Responds to Kakhi Bekauri’s Statement

09 December, 2021

Communications Commission Chairperson Kakhi Bekauri’s statement on the introduction of additional media regulation mechanisms is alarming and poses a real danger that the freedom of expression of critical opinions in the country would be restricted.

According to Communications Commission Chairperson Kakhi Bekauri’s statement, the media environment is polarised and individual media outlets have a specific political agenda, which is not regulated by the legislation. This, according to Bekauri’s explanation, has provided TV channels with a possibility to distort facts and avoid taking responsibility for doing so. He said that mechanisms need to be introduced which would ensure that the media protects the interests of the audience and that this would “lower the temperature” in the country.

This is not the first time that the Communications Commission talks about the need to amend the media legislation, including the regulation of hate speech. The Commission has cited harmonisation with the European legislation as an argument to support such regulation but, if we consider this in the context of the Georgian media environment and politicised public institutions, it becomes clear that, in reality, such amendments are aimed at restricting the freedom of expression of opinions critical of the government.

It is unfortunate that the regulatory body is repeating the rhetoric of Georgian Dream directed against the media critical of the authorities and that the Commission’s call for regulating the media is fully concurrent with the ruling party’s declared goals and initiatives. The Commission’s decisions have provided grounds for legitimate criticism on the part of the media and the civil society sector on more than one occasion.

It is the political forces rather than the media that represent the main source of a polarised environment in the country, and the ruling party is playing a crucial role in this regard. Amending the legislation this way is definitely not a proper way of addressing the challenges facing the Georgian media as it will provide the government and regulatory bodies with new levers thus making the media environment even more difficult.

Georgian Dream has been notable for its aggressive rhetoric towards the media for years now, mainly directed against the media outlets critical of the government. It is not by accident that the main targets of internal disinformation campaigns are precisely the journalists who criticise the authorities. There are many examples of journalists being discredited and intimidated. The government continues boycotting the media critical of the authorities and does not participate in their political programmes thus hampering the work of the media and depriving the audience of a possibility to become familiar with different views.

In response to prevailing challenges, the way to address alleged violations of professional standards by the media is an efficient use of existing self-regulation mechanisms. Correspondingly, it is important to further strengthen these mechanisms and to raise public awareness in this respect. The steps of the government and the Communications Commission, however, are taken in a completely opposite direction. So-called parallel institutions are being created and, for example, contrary to a declared goal, such as facilitation of media literacy, the Commission is discrediting the media critical of the government.

The current media environment is facing significant challenges: it is an environment in which criminal cases against owners and managers of the media critical of the government, or their family members may be politically motivated, in which dozens of journalists become targets of physical assault, insults and total illegal wiretapping. The government is not taking efficient steps envisaged by the legislation in order to create a sound media environment. Against the background of complete politicisation of public institutions and of the ruling party’s influence over these institutions, the legislative amendments which would provide a regulatory agency or other state institutions with an additional lever would irreparably damage the freedom of expression in the country.