GNCC must not regulate hate speech
Transparency International Georgia would like to respond to statements made by the Head of the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and that of the Speaker of Parliament, according to which, the Parliament plans to review the Law on Broadcasting as part of the EU Directive implementation process that will, among other changes, introduce hate speech regulation in broadcasting.
We believe that this initiative may result in a crackdown on criticism and restriction of the existing high standard of freedom of expression in Georgia. Since the matter at hand concerns an important aspect of democracy and human rights – freedom of expression, parliamentary discussions must take into consideration the positions of media and non-governmental organizations. In addition, all decisions must be made in line with high democratic standards and experience.
The GNCC has been requesting hate speech regulations since 2017. In December 2018, it submitted a second legislative proposal regarding this issue to the Parliament. During this entire period, media and non-governmental organizations were actively involved in the discussion, maintaining a fixed position that the initiative threatened democratic values. While GNCC did change its position on several issues as a result of NGO involvement, it rejected our main demand, according to which, the proposed amendment to change the existing model of self-regulation of hate speech to one where GNCC is a co-regulator will threaten the freedom of speech.
The legislative proposal involves changing the regulatory model for cases of use of hate speech, war propaganda and harmful influence on minors. Currently, these cases are reviewed by self-regulatory bodies within the broadcasters. The GNCC initiative proposes the introduction of the right to appeal. Self-regulatory bodies within broadcasters will continue to review cases, but their decisions might be subject to appeal to the GNCC or the court.
The government of Georgia often expresses its dissatisfaction with critical media. Recent years have seen a significant increase in the number of targeted information attacks by the government on political opponents, as well as media and civil society.
High-level public officials continue to issue direct statements on how the media should behave. Chief among them is the former Prime Minister and the current head of the Georgian Dream ruling party, whose statements are echoed by other government representatives. These statements are then followed by actions directed against critical media organizations, as evidenced by the cases of Rustavi 2 or TV Pirveli.
The proposed legislative amendments equip the GNCC with the authority to pressure the media and restrict freedom of speech. Considering the fact that the independence and impartiality of state institutions remains a challenge in Georgia, there is a real risk that the government will use the above changes to advance its political interests and restrict freedom of speech. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that high-level officials routinely refer to the new regulation as their response to criticism expressed against them.
On the other hand, we recognize the challenge that is hate speech in Georgia, which does call for regulation. However, regulation must not aggravate problems, as is the case with the GNCC proposal. Therefore, we believe that this issue must be regulated based on wide acceptance of all stakeholders, with full consideration of the Georgian context and reality.
As substantiation for the initiative, the Head of the GNCC points to Georgia’s obligations under the EU Directive and analyses issued by European experts, which, according to him, state that the Georgian legislation is incompatible with the European legislation and that hate speech regulation should be moved away from self-regulation.
In reality, the EU Directive allows member states to choose whichever model of hate speech regulation they prefer, be it self-regulation or co-regulation. In case of Georgia, the Criminal Code already includes provisions on incitement of hatred and war propaganda. In case of a co-regulatory system, it is essential that the regulatory body be independent and impartial. Finally, decisions on these issues must be made based on a consensus between stakeholders, which is not the case in Georgia (EU Directive, Article 4 (7)).
Considering the sensitive nature of the issue as a whole in relation to democratic values, Transparency International Georgia would like to stress once again that any wrong and hasty decision may cause irreparable damage to the country's future. Therefore, we urge the government to take caution and to take into account the positions offered by media and civil society organizations. We once again express our readiness to cooperate and actively engage in the review process.