Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The constitution and the Law on Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantee press freedom, but these rights are often restricted. Press laws, as well as most other laws adopted by the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili, are very progressive. Libel has been decriminalized, and freedom of information legislation has been adopted. However, in practice, the government’s willingness to implement this legislation has decreased. As a result, the relationship between the government and the media has deteriorated recently. While legislation guarantees access to public information, other legislation limits this right. Amendments to judicial legislation banned photographs and video recording in courtrooms. Media are often forced to seek redress through the court system when journalists are denied access to public institutions. Throughout the year, media faced illegal searches, closures, and unfair and nontransparent licensing decisions. The members of the media regulatory body, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), are appointed by the president; the GNCC has been criticized by media observers for its nontransparent operations and licensing procedures.
During the fall 2007 political crisis, the relationship between the government and the media hit its lowest point. Prior to that period, which was the worst since the 2003 Rose Revolution and dealt a major blow to Georgia’s democratic image, media observers noted a slight improvement over 2006. Having secured a strong majority in local elections in 2006, the government took a more relaxed attitude toward the media in the first half of 2007. There was a decrease in indirect pressure on the media, and strong economic growth positively affected the media’s financial position. Nonetheless, on November 7, antigovernment protests and increasing tension between the government and the opposition erupted into violence when the government authorized police to use heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters. Throughout the day, police illegally raided the independent and pro-opposition Imedi television station, co-owned by wealthy businessman (and then presidential candidate) Badri Patarkatsishvili. News Corporation’s Imedi TV and the independent local Tbilisi television station Kavkasia TV were both suspended for allegedly inciting antigovernment protests. The following day, President Saakashvili imposed a nine-day state of emergency that banned all local and foreign broadcasts except for public television. While other stations resumed broadcasts once the state of emergency was lifted, Imedi’s license remained suspended until December 12. Throughout the fall period, journalists were often the victims of intimidation and attacks.
Through the end of the year, the media environment remained highly politicized. Progovernment stations such as Rustavi-2 and Merz provided positive coverage of the incumbent president, while independent stations grew increasingly pro-opposition in their editorial positions. In December, six well-known reporters from Imedi and Rustavi-2 resigned in protest over pressure to produce pro-opposition or progovernment coverage. Imedi was forced to close down again before the end of the year following the resignations. Authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continued to restrict media freedom despite the legal protections for it. Local and foreign journalists are frequently intimidated and detained, and there is little access to local or foreign information in these regions.
For a small country, Georgia has a large number of broadcast and print media outlets. Despite the political turmoil in late 2007, most media continued to operate and express diverse views. There are 200 independent newspapers and at least 8 independent or privately owned television stations, 5 of which have nationwide coverage. However, the print media are not financially self-sustainable, and as of January 2007, print media no longer receive tax benefits. Media ownership is not transparent, and often journalists and reporters do not know the real owner of the media company for which they work. At the end of the year, ahead of the presidential election in 2008, advertising became a political tool, with President Saakashvili able to dominate free and paid airtime. The opposition, already dealing with a short and unexpectedly early campaign period, had poor funding and was left without a major nationwide broadcast platform, first because of the state of emergency and then because of Imedi’s suspension. Although internet usage is expanding in Georgia, only 7 percent of the population regularly accessed information online in 2007.