Georgia Media Complains of Increasing Pressure

Journalists warn that they are being targeted, with little official protection.

Georgia Media Complains of Increasing Pressure

Journalists warn that they are being targeted, with little official protection.

A protest by the media in front of the building of the Government of Georgia following Lekso Lashkarava's death.
A protest by the media in front of the building of the Government of Georgia following Lekso Lashkarava's death ©
Tuesday, 5 October, 2021

On September 15, cameraman Levan Ablotia was caught up in a confrontation between activists for the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party and other journalists at the party’s office in Georgia’s Kareli region.

As he attempted to cover the dispute, the Main TV channel cameraman fell off a second-floor balcony and was hospitalised with broken bones and bruising.

“I was going backwards, I wanted to keep some distance between me and the aggressors, then I felt the railing at the back, I lost balance amidst the brawl and fell over,” he told reporters after leaving hospital. “I was just defending myself, but I could not defend myself to the end and it happened.”

“We journalists and cameramen have worked in many places, we have covered stories from hotspots, but I have never experienced such aggression and violence against us from completely unknown people,” he continued.

GD strenuously denied that party activists had pushed the cameraman off the balcony, with executive secretary Mamuka Mdinaradze issuing a statement that “there was no physical contact between the cameraman and the representatives in our party office”. An investigation was subsequently opened.

The incident highlights an increasingly fraught atmosphere in Georgia with media workers warning that they are being targeted and harassed with little official protection.

The Media Advocacy Coalition, made up of a number of respected Georgian organisations, condemned the Kareli incident and argued that it was the result of the aggressive politics of the ruling party.

“We believe that the incident on 15 September, 2021 and the injury of the cameraman contains signs of unlawful interference in journalistic activities, which is a circumstance to be considered during the investigation,” it said in a statement.

“We call on the GD party not to encourage violence against journalists and also to urge its supporters to immediately stop attacking journalists and unlawfully obstructing their professional activities.”

The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, one of the coalition members, has issued 18 statements condemning violence and threats against the media in 2021 alone. The most high-profile incident came on July 5 this year when 51 journalists were injured as they attempted to cover violent attacks on the Tbilisi Pride rally. Cameraman Lekso Lashkarava later died.

Some link the violence against Georgian media with the rhetoric of the ruling party and a lack of proper investigation into alleged abuses.

“At this stage, more than 100 cases are under investigation,” said Mariam Gogosashvili, chairwoman of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics. “[The Kareli incident] once again confirms that the state has a policy of encouraging violence against the media. Unfortunately, the government does not [respect] the role of the media in a democratic society.”

Natia Kuprashvili, a journalism professor at Tbilisi State University, said that officials had long used the media as a convenient scapegoat, with parties across the political spectrum having to bear some responsibility for this.

“The existing media environment in the country has been forming for years, especially stirred by government officials. Their criticism was more often addressed to media rather than their political opponents, and that encouraged violence against the media. The opposition forces as well never avoid harsh statements towards media, mostly towards pro-government media outlets.”

She noted that on June 20, 2019, when angry protests accompanied the high-profile visit of a Russian politician to parliament, “journalists became targets and were fired on with rubber bullets. More than 30 journalists were injured then, but no one was punished”.

Ahead of October 2 local elections, an OSCE report noted that some involved in monitoring had “expressed concern about the deteriorating media environment and alleged intimidation and violence against journalists”.

It also found that the media was “significantly dependent on political and business interests and reflects the polarisation between the ruling and opposition parties”.

Zviad Koridze, a media researcher and a member of the council of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, said that the scene had become unhealthily politically orientated.

Many media outlets have links with either the ruling party or the opposition, and those not directly connected with the ruling party feel especially threatened by increasing levels of harassment and animosity.

“The media is being manipulated because these media outlets are largely dependent on these political entities,” he said. “Their editorial policy is also largely determined by the agenda of these political parties. If there was no such link with political actors then I am sure the media would be much better, but unfortunately the media is a continuation of this political fight."

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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