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MDF - "The journalists violate presumption of innocence and interfere in personal lives of Story Heros”


Nata Dzvelishvili, media.ge

The journalists, covering criminal facts, basically commit two mistakes – they violate presumption of innocence and intervene in personal lives of the story heroes - the "Media Development Foundation" (MDF) has published a research report, which was released on July 2.

Media monitoring was conducted by journalist Giorgi Mgeladze of the studio "monitor" covers the period from April 12 to March 12, 2012; he monitored main news programs of the TV companies: Public Broadcasting, "Rustavi 2", “Imedi”, "Caucasia TV" and "Maestro TV",.

During monitoring period, 63 TV-stories were prepared about justice. Most of them - 19 stories were prepared by "Rustavi 2", Imedi TV released 17; GPB -12, "Maestro" – 10 and the least – 5 TV-stories were aired by Kavkasia.

The report states that the presumption of innocence was mainly violated by law enforcement or governmental bodies. Journalist's main "crime" is the coverage of these violations – the stories.

According to the Criminal Procedural Code, a specific person shall be presumed innocent before the verdict of guiltiness is brought against this person and mentioning him/her as guilty in advance shall be deemed as violation of presumption of innocence. In this regard, the Georgian law makes additional reservation for broadcasters. In particular, the Broadcasters' Code of Conduct " that is the binding document for broadcasters, states in the Article 48 that the broadcasters while covering Crime and Anti social actions, they should maintain the balance between freedom of expression on the one hand, and between presumption of innocence and right to private lives of suspects, accused persons, offenders, victims, witnesses, etc.

"Despite such legislative reservations, the Georgian broadcasters often declare a person, detained several minutes before, to be a criminal, murderer, etc. There were several occasions when the publicly labeled criminal was finally found not-guilty", - the monitoring report of the Media Development Foundation reads.

Researcher cited concrete texts of journalists from the GPB, "Rustavi 2" and "Imedi" TV when they refer to the detained persons and they are: "Robbers", Criminals", and “members of criminal group.” “Journalists use those terms when detainees are only accused at the time of TV-story broadcasting,” the research states.

During the monitoring the suspects were identified by TV-Company Kavkasia too. The TV-presenter named all nine detainees and said "they attacked families armed with automatic rifles." The TV Company declared all of them to be "Robbers" without any court decision.

Broadcasters' Code of Conduct states that “When covering crime and anti-social activities, broadcasters shall not identify the suspect, except the case when his name is known to the society, or if the case is of high public interest".

According to the research report, presumption of innocence was not violated by Maestro TV Company. "This may be caused by limited coverage of criminal issues; unlike national broadcasters, Maestro spends less time on covering similar issues," the report states.

Besides violation of presumption of innocence, several examples of intervention in personal lives were outlined during monitoring.

The research underlines that during the monitoring period, an accident in Radiani Street, Tbilisi was vivid example of disclosure of details of private life. On April 3, 2012, dead wife and husband were found in Radiani St. 7. This story was main topic of the news programs of the broadcasters during several days.

When reporting about the tragedy, GPB, Kavkasia, "Rustavi 2" and "Imedi” declared that supposedly, jealousy was motive of the murder. They referred to the husband as a murderer and underscored his psychic conditions – “according to one of the versions he was receiving tranquilizers." Broadcasters showed photos of the dead people. The research states it was interference in private life.

"The dead people were not public servants or figures that could be ground of high public interest to this accident. So, the correspondent was to be more careful when covering the fact,” the report states and underscores that Maestro TV was more careful when reporting about this accident. They did not allege jealousy was motive of the crime and did not show photos of the dead people either.

The research states that broadcasters release many TV-stories, when journalists cover stories about detainees in compliance with the law, and victimized people are not unfairly “labeled”.

The researcher recommends journalists that if law enforcement officers violate presumption of innocence, they should maximally avoid dissemination of their statements and when speaking about any concrete accusations, they should underline that their statements rely on the stories of enforcement officer.

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