Defamation Lawsuits – Additional Lever against Critical Media - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Defamation Lawsuits – Additional Lever against Critical Media

04 April, 2022

Critical media outlets are facing a number of difficulties in Georgia. We have witnessed a series of negative developments or tendencies in recent years: the change of ownership of critical TV channels through using state mechanisms, the cases of pressure and physical reprisal against journalists, criminal prosecution against media owners, orchestrated campaigns aimed at discrediting critical media, in which political leaders are also actively involved.

This time, we will focus on a new tendency of restricting media activities related to an alarmingly high number of lawsuits filed in court against critical media representatives for alleged defamatory statements. According to the information obtained by TI Georgia, 28 lawsuits were filed against three leading critical TV channels – Mtavari Arkhi, Formula and TV Pirveli – in recent months. A great number of claimants are representatives of the ruling party or persons with close ties to it.

A large number of lawsuits filed against critical media in a short period of time clearly point to a coordinated tendency aimed at intimidating media outlets and restricting their activities. The change in the judicial practice is also regrettable, because despite an unambiguous provision in the law, the burden of proof is placed on a journalist. Also, there are some dangerous cases when a claimant files a complaint directly against a journalist and demands freezing of his/her personal accounts pending trial.

A self-regulatory mechanism can also be used to assess media activities in terms of protection of professional and ethical standards. Unfortunately, the government and the persons affiliated with it prefer to apply to court rather than use the self-regulatory mechanism.

Lawsuits – Mechanism of Pressure

Number of lawsuits filed in court against critical media representatives for alleged defamatory statements has significantly increased recently.

According to the information obtained by TI Georgia, as of today, 28 lawsuits have been filed against the representatives of critical TV channels - Mtavari Arkhi, Formula and TV Pirveli - with a large portion filed in 2021.

A great part of plaintiffs are members of the ruling party, highly ranking officials or persons with close ties to them.

For example, the lawsuits filed against Mtavari Arkhi TV clearly point to a coordinated action by claimants. In particular, in a period between 8 November 2021 and 13 January 2022, 11 mayors of the ruling party filed separate lawsuits in court in connection with the story aired by Mtavari Arkhi. All of them demanded equal amounts – GEL 55,555 in compensation for moral damages caused by violation of honor and dignity.

Grigol Liluashvili, Head of the State Security Service, Giorgi Gachechiladze, a musician with the stage name Utsnobi (Unknown), and Jaba Putkaradze, Minister of Finance and Economy of Adjara, are among the claimants who filed lawsuits against the media.

The practice of suing the media is common for the democratic states too. Any person, who believes that the information disseminated by the media has violated his/her legitimate interests, has the right to go to court. This right is also guaranteed by Georgian laws. However, the main problem here is that in the issues or specific court cases, where the ruling party has an interest, the judiciary favors the latter, and we can bring a number of such examples. Accordingly, there is a substantial doubt that the court does not consider such cases impartially and delivers a verdict in favor of the government. It seems that the main goal of the government is just to restrict, obstruct or even halt the activities of critical media.

Attempt to place a burden of proof on a journalist

Court decisions on a large portion of defamation cases are still pending.

Among the ongoing cases, especially noteworthy is the November 19, 2021 ruling of the Tbilisi City Court against TV Pirveli, which partially upheld the lawsuit filed by a police inspector. The TV channel was ordered to disseminate information about the court ruling, according to which the disputable TV story aired on TV Pirveli contained incorrect facts and was defamatory. In addition, the court ordered the TV channel to pay GEL 2 thousand in compensation for moral damages. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision ruled by the lower court.

A radically different interpretation of a high standard of burden of proof established by law is alarming in this dispute. In particular, pursuant to the law, the burden of proof for limitation of freedom of speech shall lie with the plaintiff. Any reasonable doubt that cannot be confirmed under the procedure established by the law shall be resolved against the limitation of the freedom of speech. The judge, however, modified the standard envisaged by law based on unsubstantiated clarification and placed the burden of proof on the respondent, in this particular case, the TV channel.  

It is regrettable that the public statements made by the ruling party representatives and the desires related to amending legislation, including the government’s discontent with the high standard of burden of proof are reflected in court decisions.

Demands to freeze journalists’ personal accounts

A new tendency directly targeting journalists is dangerous. Businessman Nugzar Alugishvili sued Nodar Meladze, head of TV Pirveli newsroom, and Maka Andronikashvili, an investigative journalist, over the TV story, which, as Alugishvili claimed, was harmful, discrediting and defamatory. The plaintiff demands GEL 20 thousand in total from Nodar Meladze, Maka Andronikashvili and TV Pirveli in compensation for moral and reputational damages. In addition, the plaintiff seeks freezing of Nodar Meladze and Maka Andronikashvili’s personal accounts pending trial.

Such demands are obviously illegal and actually aim at intimidating the journalists. It is clearly established in the Law of Georgia on Freedom of Speech and Expression that (article 6, paragraph 2) the owner of a media outlet shall be the respondent in the litigation on defamation published in the media outlet by a journalist.

 A threat of changing the standards of expressing criticism 

Government officials have long been talking about the need of making amendments to existing media legislation. Moreover, the government does not limit itself only to making statements – the ruling party representatives or the persons affiliated with them have drafted a number of legislative packages or initiatives. In some instances, the government tried to restrict the freedom of expressing criticism and to introduce a lever of additional pressure on the media under the cover of improving the electoral environment.

Freedom of expression is a crucial constitutional and conventional right that is protected by Georgian law. Defamation was decriminalized in Georgia back in 2004.

The freedom to express criticism is also strengthened by a number of progressive precedential decisions of the Constitutional Court. Unfortunately, recent decisions ruled by the common courts raise serious questions about selective justice, especially in cases of defamation involving opponents of the government.


Media plays an important role in democratic states, controls the government and provides information to the public regarding the issues containing public interests. We urge the government:

  • To stop exercising its influence over the judiciary and other state institutions that aims at oppressing or exerting influence on the media;
  • To stop filing coordinated lawsuits against critical media outlets, which do not aim at protecting the rights of affected individuals, but rather exerting pressure on the media;
  •  It is important for the courts of higher instances not to share unsubstantiated decisions made by the courts of lower instances that significantly restricts and worsens a high standard of protection of freedom of expression;
  • The court must be freed from external and internal influences. High standard and practice regarding the disputes related to freedom of expression must not be worsened.

Here is list of lawsuits filed against TV Pirveli, Mtavari Arkhi and TV Formula. The list relies on information provided by TV channels.