Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Georgia
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 1998|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Georgia, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c565361f.html [accessed 23 September 2014]|
There has been a progressive trend toward press freedom in Georgia. One of the best examples of that trend was the legal victory of Rustavi-2, the leading independent Georgian TV station, which had been forced off the air in July 1996 when the Georgian Ministry of Communications revoked its broadcast license. On November 4, 1996, the Georgian Supreme Court ruled that the denial of Rustavi-2's license was unlawful and ordered its restoration. The Ministry, however, delayed its return. Rustavi-2 finally obtained its license and resumed broadcasting April 28.
The victory came after protracted legal battles and international pressure on the government and ministry to restore Rustavi-2's license. Many independent observers viewed the silencing of the station as an attempt to pressure independent broadcasters and to stop Rustavi-2's coverage of controversial news on political and ethnic issues, as well as on organized crime.
Georgy Akimidze, the co-founder and artistic director of Rustavi-2, said the decision to revive the Rustavi-2 broadcasts "gave hope for an improvement in the situation between mass media and regulatory agencies and was a positive step for the development of the independent media in Georgia." He thanked CPJ and other press freedom advocacy groups for their support.
Another positive achievement was the dismissal of Security Minister Shota Kviraya, who had ordered the tapping of opposition journalists' telephones.
Reporters nevertheless still face obstacles to practicing their profession freely. For example, journalists were barred from the courtroom during the high-profile trial of 15 people accused of "acts of terrorism," including an alleged attempt to kill President Eduard Shevardnadze.
This year again the parliament debated altering some clauses in the 1991 Law on the Press and Other Mass Media. After failing to make some restrictive changes in 1996, lawmakers proposed separate laws on television, radio, and the press. Independent reporters, editors, and broadcasters protested, arguing that the absence of press laws was the best strategy to guarantee press freedom. At the end of December, the speaker of the parliament announced that parliamentary media submissions were working on new bills on television, radio, and the press. The parliament did, however, approve a new Law on Freedom of Information that contains brief, vague provisions meant to guarantee the right to freely receive and impart information.
The Law on the Press and Other Mass Media allows journalists and media outlets to file appeals in disputes with government agencies over licensing and accreditation, as in the case of Rustavi-2. Although it forbids censorship, as well as the existence of any media or distribution monopoly – including by the state – the law contains some limits on disclosing "state secrets," hate speech and inflammatory language, and infringement on "the honor and dignity" of citizens, which can easily be misinterpreted and misused. The law also leaves no doubt that state-run media remain under strict government surveillance. For example, television and radio news coverage of political developments has to follow "official guidelines." Top management at state television and radio, and at the official information and publishing corporation, Sakinform, is appointed by the parliament and the president.