The Ongoing Investigation by State Security Service into a TV Story aired by Mtavari Arkhi Creates a Risk of Interference in Editorial Independence and Self-Censorship
The process of the investigation launched by the Georgian State Security Service into an alleged act of sabotage in connection with a TV story aired by Mtavari Arkhi raises some questions. Discussing the issue of the alleged violation of professional standards by the media in the criminal context goes against internationally recognized standards, grossly interferes in the editorial independence of the media, and creates a risk of self-censorship.
On June 25, it became known to the public that the State Security Service has initiated an investigation into an alleged act of sabotage in connection with a TV story aired by Mtavari Arkhi. According to the story, local officials were allegedly offering money to residents so that they named COVID-19 as the cause of death of their family members. By this, local authorities were trying to artificially inflate the key statistics about coronavirus cases. Respondents, journalists, and politicians were all summoned to the State Security Service for giving testimonies.
Meanwhile, on July 2, the State Security Service released a statement, noting that based on the court ruling, it will request full, unedited video footage related to the TV story.
When identifying an alleged violation of professional standards by the media, any person can use self-regulatory mechanisms and apply to the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics or a self-regulatory body operating at a TV channel. Instead, launching an investigation and considering the case in the context of a criminal offence creates a dangerous precedent and risks to have “a chilling effect.”
It is also noteworthy that the TV story was about the falsification of statistical data by local officials and alleged official misconduct. Against this background, launching an investigation into an act of sabotage instead of reacting to the crimes covered by the TV story seems illogical.
All these circumstances raise doubts that the purpose of the investigation is not to establish the facts but rather it aims at exerting pressure on media activities, sending a warning signal to other TV channels, and deterring criticism against the government.
The government’s recent actions against the media create an extremely dangerous precedent, causing irreparable damage to the media environment. With elections looming, it is important that the government realizes the role a journalist plays in a democratic society and ensures the smooth functioning of media outlets.