2023 Statistics of Violence against Georgian Media Representatives and the State’s Response - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

2023 Statistics of Violence against Georgian Media Representatives and the State’s Response

25 December, 2023

In 2023, as in previous years, there were frequent instances of verbal and physical attacks and violence against media representatives critical of the ruling party. While there were no cases of media representatives being unjustly arrested on unfounded charges last year, the critical media still encountered numerous challenges. Throughout the year, both in Tbilisi and the regions, approximately 45 incidents involving various forms of violence, harassment, and intimidation attempts against journalists were publicly documented. Transparency International Georgia requested information on statistics and legal responses to crimes committed against journalists in 2023. According to the Special Investigation Service, from January 1, 2023 to November 30, 2023, 14 criminal cases were opened for illegal obstruction of a journalist's professional activities. Among the 14 cases, one was closed, four were forwarded to the court for hearings on the merits, and investigations are ongoing for the remaining nine cases. Moreover, in six criminal cases, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal prosecution against nine individuals.

There have been three major categories of violence against journalists:

1.    Instances of overt assaults against media representatives:

●      In JuneMisha Mshvildaze, an anchor and co-founder of Formula TV, was assaulted on one of the central avenues in Tbilisi. One individual was charged for the incident.

●      In July, crews from Mtavari TV and Formula TV who arrived to cover an event by the opposition party “United National Movement” in the Sagarejo municipality of Kakheti region, were attacked and obstructed from carrying out their journalistic activities.

●      In July, the Mtavari TV crew covering the Tbilisi Pride event was obstructed from carrying out their professional activities.

●      In August, the Mtavari TV crew was assaulted in the village of Khaishi, Mestia Municipality.

●      In September, in Tbilisi, the bodyguards of Otar Partskhaladze, a US-sanctioned former Prosecutor General, assaulted and physically attacked the crews of TV Pirveli and Formula TV and took away their equipment.

●      In October, according to Mtavari TVlaw enforcement officers blocked the access road to the village of Chorvila for media representatives who came there to cover the protest march of the United National Movement. Amidst the confrontation between supporters of Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili and opposition activists, the cameraman of TV Pirveli was struck by a stone and a journalist was hit with an egg.

2.    Threats and alleged intimidation attempts against media representatives:

●      In June, during the trial of the accused in the attack on Misha Mshvildadze at the Tbilisi City Court, Vato Shakarashvili, the founder of the “Georgia Above All Movement”, an active supporter of the Georgian Dream and a former party member, stated that the next target would be Nodar Meladze, the News Director of TV Pirveli.

●      In August, while covering the tragedy in Shovi, the Editor of Mtis Ambebi, an online media outlet, Gela Mtivlishvili, faced a threat of being “thrown into the water” by a civil servant. The Chairman of Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze called him “a disgraceful man” and the Chairman of the Parliament Shalva Papuashvilcalled on Mtivlishvili to delete his Facebook post. Later, Papuashvili referred to Mtivlishvili as a “self-proclaimed journalist”.

●      Unknown individuals made threatening calls from various numbers to the anchor of Formula TVIrakli Tabliashvili.

●      In October, within the scope of the investigation into the so-called coup attempt case, Vakho Kareli, the photographer of Formula TV, was called in for questioning by the State Security Service.

●      The ruling party used new methods to discredit independent media. For instance, in September, it was revealed that the Chairman of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili sent a letter of complaint to international donors after the independent online media outlet “OC Media” refused to publish his Op-Ed.

●      In Octobergovernment-affiliated TV channels broadcasted programs where representatives of the ruling party were claiming that the Friedrich Ebert Foundation together with Indigo were involved in organizing the revolution in Georgia.

●      In February, a new accreditation rule for journalists was introduced in the legislature, sparking concerns that journalists could face suspension for asking critical questions. Under the new rule, parliamentary accreditation for 11 journalists from has already been suspended.

3.     Violence against journalists during protests, arrests and imposition of fines

Two journalists (Zura Vardiashvili and Beka Jikurashvili) were arrested while covering the protests against the bill on “Transparency of Foreign Influence” (Russian Law) in early March and were subsequently fined by the court. During the same protests, journalists were obstructed while performing their journalistic activities. There were instances of acts of violence against media representatives by law enforcement officers.

There were crimes targeting journalists, though not directly linked to their professional work, instilled fear and insecurity. Journalists themselves perceived the context of these crimes as intertwined with their work. For example:

●      In February, within a short span, there were two break-ins at the residence of Nato Gogelia, a journalist at TV Pirveli.

●      In July, an external hard drive was stolen from the car of Nodar Meladze, the News Director at TV Pirveli while expensive personal belongings were left untouched.

●      In Julydocuments were lost from the apartment of journalist Vasil Dabrundashvili. The journalist also said that he was under surveillance.

Assaults on journalists, threats against them, interference in their professional activities, frequent instances of intimidation, and attempts of discrediting, coupled with a lack of thorough investigation and impunity, are clear characteristics of a kleptocratic state.

Amid European integration and the upcoming crucial parliamentary elections in 2024, Transparency International Georgia considers that ensuring a fear-free and safe media environment, first and foremost, by the ruling party is of utmost importance. Journalists should be able to carry out their professional work without interference and properly inform the public. One of the key requirements for ensuring a safe media environment is the prompt investigation of crimes committed against journalists and putting an end to impunity.