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Statement of Human Rights Center and Media Institute on the Court Ruling with regard to TV Pirveli

March 12, 2021
Human Rights Center (HRC) and Media Institute react to the ruling by Tbilisi City Court allowing investigative actions in TV Company Pirveli.

According to the assessment by HRC and Media Institute, given the current political crisis and problems in the judiciary system, the court ruling against the opposition TV Company fails to meet the standard of reasoning and may irreparably pose a threat to freedom of speech and expression in the country.

The court decision was preceded by a journalistic investigation conducted by TV Pirveli into a telephone conversation between Bera Ivanishvili, the son of the former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, as well as the head of the Special State Protection Service (SSPS). According to TV Pirveli, these recordings exhibit that Bera Ivanishvili, the son of the former Prime Minister, asks Chubinidze, the head of SSPS, to intervene and "give it a Facebook user hot and strong” for the negative comments posted on Facebook in address to Bera, the task Chubinidze does not refuse to undertake.

The legal outcomes in terms of the investigations launched into the recordings definitely leave particular space to believe there are political motives in the actions on the part of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Georgia because the Office initiated the investigation over the recordings disseminated by TV Pirveli under the charges of breach of secrecy of private communications without focusing on the content of the recordings per sue indicating to the possible signs of a criminal offense with participation of high-ranking officials. This, in turn, deepens and generates more skepticism and distrust among the public towards the state institutions.

The ruling by Tbilisi City Court allowing the seizure of the recordings from TV Pirveli is unsubstantiated contradicting both Georgian legislation as well as European human rights law and international standards. 

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasized that Article 10 of the Convention protects not only the content of information and ideas, but also the means of disseminating them. According to the case law of the Strasbourg court, great importance is attached to the role of the press and the protection of the confidentiality of the source used by the journalist. In its judgment in Goodwin v. the United Kingdom, the Court emphasized the significance of protecting the source of information used by journalists for the purposes of freedom of the media.  "Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. 

Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result, the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected. A decision requiring the disclosure of the journalistic source cannot be compatible with Article 10 of the Convention unless it is justified by an overriding requirement in the public interest.” 

According to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the right of journalists not to disclose the source of information is not a mere privilege depending on the legality or illegality of their source, but this is the right representing an integral part of the right to information and should be considered with outmost care.

Further, noteworthy is the case Nagla v. Latvia, relating to the search of the house of a famous journalist by the police and the seizure of memory cards.  In this case, the European Court of Human Rights identified a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. In the present case, the investigative bodies failed to strike a balance between the  interest of the investigation to obtain evidence and the protection of the freedom of expression of the journalist.

In view of the above, the ruling of Tbilisi City Court is unfounded, taking into account both the national legislation and European human rights law. Having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially “chilling effect” the ruling requiring the disclosure of the source has on the exercise of that freedom, the decision by Tbilisi City Court shall be considered incompatible with Article 10 the Convention until it could be justified by “an overriding requirement in the public interest.” 

Therefore, the signatory organizations call on the Office of the Prosecutor General of Georgia not to undertake the steps that would cause an irreparable damage to freedom of expression and journalistic activities in the country.

Human Rights Center 
Media Institute