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Georgian Media Often Breaches Rights of the Child

Gela Mtivlishvili

November 19 will mark the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse and 20th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. In order to find out how Georgian media highlights the issues of the child’s rights, the journalist Zviad Koridze carried out a special survey with the methodological support of UNICEF which requested the journalist to carry out similar survey. The results of this several-months survey were published in spring 2009 though they were not most welcoming. However, the urgent situation in Georgian media has not changed for the better so far. Journalists still breach international standards when working on children’s problems. National media sources tend to have a xenophobic attitude towards various groups of children.

The survey explores Georgian media sources. The author of the survey monitored the information released by national and regional media sources on the following topics: legislation and children’s problems in media; problems of ethic journalistic; children and crime; identity of juveniles; children and education; stereotypes and discrimination.

“Formally every journalist knows that they should not breach the presumption of innocence. However, almost every day at least one TV-station publicly declares the suspect to be criminal or murderer. History of 14-year-old Giorgi Zerekidze in 2007 became a typical example of the problem: TV-Company “Rustavi 2” declared him to be the criminal, abuser before trial and blamed him in plenty of crimes. TV Company “Imedi” tried to create a hero from the child who fights for the justice. Two extremely different opinions opposed each other and in parallel to it the media did not care about the fate of the child. Their policy and political process were important for them,” said Zviad Koridze.

According to statistics, in April-May of 2007 news programs of the TV Company “Rustavi 2” (“Kurieri”, “P.S”) prepared 32 reportages about crimes committed by juveniles. “Among them was a reportage about sexual games of school-children; in the reportage it was assessed as a crime. Number and frequency of similar reportages created a very aggressive public mood toward the young generation which tends to increase violence. Consequently, not only their pall can become victim of violence but older people too. Similar campaign is very dangerous,” the author of the survey thinks.

Zviad Koridze recalls the guide-book of values and standards of the BBC which offers journalists and producers to use rules and criterias to estimate the legitimacy of the news while working on the reportage about crimes. “Refrain from providing the information about unreal tendencies. For example, do not prepare the reportage about some concrete crime only because similar crime was highlighted by media recently. Avoid using the words which can find some links between these crimes (like, it happened two days ago… today…etc).

According to the survey, national newspapers also publish articles about juvenile crime very often.

“Newspaper “Alia”: “How did 18-year-old Giorgi Janashia rape 7-year-old boy?” It is not mentioned in the article that the surname of the abuser was changed. We should suppose that the surname of the suspect is not changed. We should also note that the accused is a juvenile. The article does not mention the source of the information. Journalist has not interviewed the parents of the victim,  7-year-old Zuka, or Zuka himself (based on parent’s agreement), or other witnesses – children, neighbors. Concrete people are not mentioned in the article. However, the article is full of following phrases: “According to the information obtained by “Versia”…”neighbors state…”, “we do not doubt that this incident happened during playing cards…”, “by the way the neighbors say…”; in one place the journalist wrote: “according to one of the versions, the detainee pleaded guilty though he defends himself in the testimony and said that the 7-year-old child had asked him to pat him…” This passage demonstrates that the journalist has not seen case materials and has heard about it from other person. The following passage also relies on other person’s story: “as for the neighbors, they say the detainee has abused children in Samegrelo region as well.”

When journalist is working on a serious crime, s/he should have very strong evidence to prove the information provided in the article and should not call pedophile the accused in the sub-paragraph,: stated the survey.

The author of the survey also pays attention how Georgian media reported about the case of 15-year-old Rati Milorava. “At the end of June 2008 Georgian media reported about a new topic: police launched investigation against 15-year-old Rati Milorava, who was accused for misappropriation of the candy “Tofita”; according to a second version, he assaulted the guard of the supermarket. In both versions, the incident happened on March 1, 2008. Investigation started on May 20 and on June 26 the juvenile was called to interrogation. This fact might have not become so famous, if it had not had political ground. Rati Milorava is son of Eka Beselia, secretary general of the Political Movement “For United Georgia”.

Zviad Koridze: “Journalists did not investigate facts in any newspapers. They get comments and received information about the incident from one respondent: Eka Beselia. Reportages – prepared by newspaper, TV-Station or Radio-station – shall provide complete picture of the situation. Journalist shall not omit a single detail, s/he should look for the motives of the crime and other tendencies related to it. In most cases – we can say that every time – journalists use operative information of the police or trial protocol as their source of information. Relaying only on official sources, when we work with the crimes committed by juveniles, is a bit primitive. More information shall be collected; article about juvenile crime shall be free from scandals. Most of considered (and collected) articles have sensation headlines.”

Several dozens of articles from newspapers are discussed in the survey. One of the reportage discussed in the survey is an item prepared by the TV-program “P.S” of the TV-Company “Rustavi 2” which was about raping of a little girl in the village of Gurjaani district.

“The author of the reportage, Ana Asatiani, explained that the name of the girl – Lida Moseshvili is false; neither her face was shown in the reportage but many other details can assist people to identify the child: the village, yard, neighbors and especially the witness whose name is openly published by the journalist. The witness tells the details of the rape he witnessed from the window and then criticizes Lida: “I could not see any violence there.” Other villagers also have indifferent attitude to the fact “what rape are you speaking about?! This girl is believed to have a poor reputation since more than 2 years… Everybody speaks about it!”

“Having shown similar attitude without comments creates the feeling that either the girl was not raped at all or it is a story invented by her, or that we should doubt about the honesty of this girl. The only person, who protects the raped girl and her family, is an astonished man who tries to beat certain Dato. Dato is the supposed abuser Dato M-dze according to the reportage.”

“Neither secret investigation methods nor information provided by official sources were used in the reportage. Thus, we have question: what was the purpose of the reportage? Where the public interest in what the program is prepared the reportage about the raping of a little girl? Identification of the victim of violence, furthermore of the juvenile, is illegal,” said Zviad Koridze.

One more issue of the survey is articles about street children. “It is in fashion to make articles about street children in Georgian media. Everybody is curious about such article and TV-reportages prepared on this problem. Journalists manage to make those stories dramatic and if they exaggerate the situation, nobody will punish them. Nobody tries to be correct and ethic about these children in media,” said the author of the survey.

Zviad Koridze thinks the solution of the problem is to create a Professional Ethic Code which will be acceptable for journalists, editors and producers.

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