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Classic Example of Anti-Semitism

15.04.2011

Salome Achba

Jury members and TV-Company Imedi apologized to the society for the anti-Semitist “joke” made during the TV-competition of the Funny and Clever Club. Although their apology was ten days late and the Human Rights Center had already published urgent appeal about it, as people say – better late than never.

On April 2, TV-Company Imedi transmitted contest of the Funny and Clever Club where participants were asked: “What is the deed of Hitler?” and one of the participant teams Koza Nostra replied: “Free gas in every Jewish family.”

The audience broke out laughing at the “joke” and warmly applauded Koza Nostra. Jury too was very kind to the team and gave high points to them.

Although the program was pre-recorded and not transmitted live, the TV-Company did not avoid publishing hate speech and did not cut off the joke full of anti-Semitism when editing the program.

Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs of Georgia Lado Vardzelashvili was member of the five-member jury. He also granted high points to Kozanostra’s humor. He did not express his protest against the hate speech during or after the competition in public.

The anti-Semitic statement was uploaded on the youtube. Afterwards, the Human Rights Center published an urgent appeal and requested resignation of the minister because of the incident.

The Human Rights Center considers that the answer of the team from Tbilisi State Medical University is not funny or clever. We cannot call it bad or black joke either. In reality, it is an ordinary fascism which is singlehandedly condemned by the healthy civil society. Human Rights Center calls on the judges, whether its “favorite character of children,” “beautiful lady,” or an actor that they are public figures and are obligated to apologize to civil society and first of all – to Jewish people. As for the Minister of Sports and Youth, Mr. Lado Vardzelashvili, to our consideration, he bears more public accountability. Therefore, we call on him to resign from his post as an individual unsuitable for his job.”

The Human Rights Center’s online newspaper www.humanrights.ge was working on the article about the issue and requested the spokesperson of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs to organize interview either with the minister or deputy minister. The Minister refused to meet the journalist of the humanrights.ge and the spokesperson answered our questions over the phone. “The Ministry funds the Funny and Clever Club and not fascism or anti-Semitism. As for the joke, we do not interfere in the creative activities of the group. The Club is responsible for context and the TV-Company is responsible for technical issues. Thus, we cannot understand why you request resignation of the minister in your appeal?!”

Next day after the Human Rights Center published the urgent appeal, on April 13, the apology letters of the Kozanostra and Minister were published on the official website of the Department of Sport and Youth Affairs.

“I would like to express my categorical disrespect to any xenophobic or anti-Semitic statements as well as to any ironic statements about the crimes committed against humanity; thus, I would like to apologize to those people who felt insulted and hurt because of the unconscious statement of the young people,” statement of the Minister.

Working on the article, humanrights.ge interviewed deputy minister of sport and youth affairs Giorgi Avaliani. He explained the insulting joke of the young people by their incompetence and insufficient experience in similar competitions in Georgia.

Giorgi Avaliani, deputy minister of sport and youth affairs of Georgia: “Of course, these jokes are not ethic and are very insulting. We discussed this issue after the program was recorded. We suggested the team of Funny and Clever Club to prepare the shows better in future. You know that we are establishing the culture of similar competitions in our country now. Many details are being worked out now. I think, they will learn how to choose topics of jokes. The students have not made similar statement on purpose; their reply to the question was spontaneous and I do not think it was correct to criticize them publicly.”

Another member of the jury was famous TV-presenter Giorgi Gogichaishvili who told humanrights.ge it was mistake to show the joke on TV. “As soon as the competition finished, I told Nika Makhviladze that similar joke was not correct for the competition and asked not to show it on TV. We cannot joke about everything. We could not do anything there; we could not publicly rebuke the team for the joke.”

-Despite all that you have granted high points to the team…

-What do you mean by high points?

-I mean 5 points which you granted to the team for the joke

-By the way, the maximum points in the competition were 6 and I granted only 5.

Humanrights.ge interviewed president of the Funny and Clever Club Nikoloz Makhviladze.

-What do you think about the joke made during the competition?

-It was question-answer part of the competition which is not planned in advance and is based on improvisation. Consequently, we could not predict the replies of the participant teams to the questions. I think the joke was not hate-speech at all.

-What do you think, could the joke insult Jewish people?

-No, of course not. How could it insult them?! Why should we hate Jewish people?!

-People joked about human tragedy in your program… Do not you think that jokes about human tragedies are unethical and insulting?

-Yes, of course we think it is insulting and similar facts will never occur in our program. We edit our programs and I promise we will never show similar thing on TV.

-You always pre-record your program. If you knew that the joke could hurt Jewish people, why did not you cut off this part from the program?

-I overlooked it. We will never overlook similar things in future. I personally apologize to Jewish people.

The Human Rights Center called upon the TV-Company Imedi to discuss the incident properly and report to the society whether they breached the Law of Georgia on Public Broadcasting or not when released pro-fascist and anti-Semitic joke.

More precisely, Article 56 of the Law (prohibition) states:  “Broadcasting license holders shall avoid broadcasting programs containing material to stir up hatred, discrimination that is offensive to any person or group on the basis of ethnic background, religion, opinion, age, gender, sexual preference or disability, or any other feature or status. Special emphasis of these features or statuses is only permissible within the context of a program if it aims merely to illustrate such hatred or discrimination, as they already exist in society.”

Imedi-TV did not publish any official statement or apology letter; however, director general of the Company and former minister of economic development Giorgi Arveladze gave comment about this issue to the newspaper Prime Time. “Of course, we had strict reaction on the fact. I held urgent session next day. We invited the entire art group and discussed the problem with everybody who was responsible for the incident; we expressed our categorical position about it. It makes no difference whether it was a joke or serious statement. We condemn all kind anti-Semitic statements… we requested them to refrain from similar jokes in future. Otherwise, Imedi-TV shall cut off similar immoral phrases without warning. On the one hand, the competition participants joke on the stage but on the other hand, the TV-programs shall be controlled. They accepted our warning and as far as I know they gave instructions to their participants to avoid similar incidents in future.”

Public Defender of Georgia Giorgi Tughushi responded to the anti-Semitic joke and shared the position of the Human Rights Center.

“It should be noted that the audience hailed this answer with ovation. At the same time, none of the members of the jury, including a political official – the Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Lado Vardzelashvili, expressed protest about the question and the team’s answer. The aforementioned fact is disturbing. The answer of the team of Cosa Nostra insults the dignity of the Jewish people and the memory of Holocaust and represents an anti-Semitic statement. Such statements, made even in the context of humor, must be strictly assessed and condemned,” statement of the Public Defender of Georgia.

As for the legal evaluation of the joke, lawyer from the Georgian Young Lawyers Association Giorgi Gotsiridze said it was example of hate speech and alleged that the TV-Company breached the law on broadcasting; more precisely Article 49, Part III which entitles broadcasting license holders to avoid broadcasting programs containing material which stir up hatred, discrimination, that is offensive to any person or group.

Non-governmental organization Multinational Georgia filed complaint to the TV-Company Imedi in the framework of the self-regulation mechanism. Imedi representatives said they would discuss the complaint in near future.

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