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Media monitoring exposed problems of Georgian media

29.05.2012

Aleko Tskitishvili, humanrightshouse.org

Violation of presumption of innocence, identification of juvenile respondents, copying of positions and versions of law enforcement agencies, unethical epithets, lack of qualification and superficiality – these are main conclusions of the Human Rights Center’s monitors which they made as a result of monitoring of news programs of Public Broadcaster and printed media.

Media monitoring answered the question how various social or political issues are reported in media and how it reflects on the development of civic society. Media monitoring is a new term in Georgia. The number of media monitors skilled in relevant theoretical education-experience is also small. In the frame of UNDP project media monitors of Human Rights Center could study the problems of Georgian media and provide the society with their conclusions.

UNDP project “Development of Media Monitoring in Georgia” was carried out with financial support of the EU. At the starting stage the media monitors were trained how to observe covering of social and economical issues in Georgian media. The monitoring activities were carried out in May-December of 2011 and final results were published short time ago. Seven nongovernmental organizations participated in the monitoring process who observed coverage of various social and economical issues by various media outlets.

Monitors of the Human Rights Center researched coverage of judiciary and environmental issues in Georgian media. The monitoring covered the study of the following media outlets: newspapers Alia, Resonansi, Akhali Taoba and the main news program of the Public Broadcaster Moambe.

Media monitoring revealed that the approach of the Georgian media towards reporting on environmental issues is quite uniform: the topic is considered to be of secondary interest. Supposedly editorial boards think such articles or TV reports are not profitable from a commercial point of view. However monitors of the Human Rights Center believe Public Broadcaster, as a non-profit-oriented one must focus on advertisers and viewer rating, must bear more responsibility in this field. Funding for the Public Broadcaster is provided by the government and its accountability to society is correspondingly higher. So, the PB shall intensively report about environmental issues at a high level.

More problems were observed when monitoring coverage of judiciary issues in media Human Rights Center, as a human rights organization, revealed several alarming trends during the monitoring process. The shortcomings were most obvious in Public Broadcaster’s main news program of the day Moambe.

More precisely, the monitoring revealed that selected media outlets have problems that are connected to the reporting about judiciary issues and the upholding of professional standards.

Materials that were published in the newspapers or aired by the TV channel were frequently unbalanced and partial with no demonstrated separation between facts and opinions. Another problem concerns the professionalism of the journalists. Very often, they are not familiar with legal regulations and the subject of the report. Sometimes they mix up legal terms, demonstrating poor knowledge of the field (law) they are working in.

The study of the Georgian media exposed articles (Alia) and reports (Moambe) which frequently violated the presumption of innocence. Journalists of Moambe breached professional ethic several times and identified juvenile respondents in several TV-stories about criminal cases.

Media-monitors of the Human Rights Center concluded as a result of qualitative analysis that Moambe often used pieces of information released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office. In their reports about criminal cases, journalists presented video materials that were produced by police agencies. They fully shared any official accusations and versions of events. Thus, journalists commonly acted as accusers and violated the presumption of innocence principle.

Journalists on the Moambe program were quite biased during reporting about their colleagues detained for alleged spying, the so called “Photo Reporters’ Case”. Even the title, Means of Recruitment, revealed the partial attitude of the journalists and editorial staff of the program. An unprecedented length of aired material (20 minutes) was accompanied by the absence of balance.

Media monitors of the Human Rights Center provided the society with the results of the monitoring of coverage about environmental and judiciary issues during the the Public Broadcaster’s TV-program Media Monitor. Media Monitor is Public Broadcaster’s program prepared in the frame of joint project of UNDP and EU mission in Georgia. The program represents the results of researches about coverage of important issues of the society in printed media, radio, online or TV-media and what the current trends are.

On May 14, TV-program Media Monitor invited experts – Eka Popkhadze from the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and law expert Kakha Tsikarishvili to speak about the findings of the Human Rights Center’s experts about judiciary issues. The program invited coordinator of the Caucasian Environmental NGO Network Rezo Getiashvili and co-chairperson of the Green Movement – Friends of the Earth Nino Chkhobadze to speak about the findings during the monitoring of environmental issues. The experts, in fact, shared the conclusions of the Human Rights Center’s monitors.

Eka Popkhadze from the GYLA said the media-monitoring revealed that Georgian media pays particular attention to the accused while the judiciary topics have some other characters too – lawyer, judge, prosecutor though media outlets report about them in rare cases. Simultaneously, the facts and comments are not distinguished in reportages. Titles and journalist’s comments are biased. Versions are represented in the titles, for example - news item “Means of Recruitment” demonstrated a stand of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and tried to assure society that Russian special services recruited photo journalist Giorgi Abdaladze for spying.

Eka Popkhadze: “I was surprised to see that the diagrams in the Report about subjects mostly discussed during coverage did not include a lawyer at all. It is also noteworthy that investigation process is under particular focus and journalists are not interested what happened afterwards. However, the Ethic Code obliges Public Broadcaster to report about judiciary process too in order to provide the society with full information how the case finished, whether the perpetrator was punished or not. It is important for the presumption of innocence when the accused is found not guilty to restitute his/her reputation. Diagrams also show that Georgian media is very polarized and unbalanced. On the one side, we see news items of Moambe where government, MIA and the court are reported in positive tone and the accused in the negative tone. On the other hand, newspapers positively report about the accused and negatively about governmental institutions. One of the causes of this situation is that media outlets use various sources for their information – Moambe relies on the materials provided by the MIA while the newspapers mostly rely on the information of the non-parliamentary opposition and nongovernmental organizations.”

Law expert Kakha Tsikarishvili said journalists face problems of obtaining comments and it might cause shortcomings in their news items and articles but the justice is a complex field and it cannot demonstrate only one position. “There is a saying – two lawyers have three opinions. When working on judiciary, journalist must bear more responsibility to maintain balance and ask opinions of both parties. Absence of alternative opinion is rare case in this field, particularly on the investigation stage when defense and prosecutor’s parties have completely different positions. One more serious problem is news items where the defendant claims one thing and the prosecutor claims the other. In this situation society cannot make out real situation because the journalists do not apply to independent expert for the comment and does not indicate to the society which party is right.”

When speaking about the coverage of environmental issues in Georgian media, the invited experts said that superficial coverage of the issue might be caused by short number of environmental nongovernmental organizations and deficiency of media communication. However, they think the media should try to contact NGOs on the issues because there are many problems of urgent significance in the field of environment and media must report about them very thoroughly.

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