So how free is the news media in Georgia?

There are many ways to answer this question.

I rely on Freedom House, which reports the press is “partly free.” It states: “The constitution and legal system provide for strong protection of freedom of the press. However, in practice the government has sought to stifle independent and opposition media, particularly broadcast media. The authorities have continued their efforts to control editorial and news content at all major television broadcasters in the country.” http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&year=2010&country=7827.

In 2010, Georgia ranked 126, and the Russian Federation ranked 175 on a scale of press freedom (#1 is the most free; #196 is the least free). In 2011, Georgia improved to 118. The three countries with slightly higher rankings were Senegal, Turkey and Uganda. The three countries with slightly worse rankings were Malawi, Moldova, and Columbia.

According to the Paris-based media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Georgia ranked 100th out of 178 countries in 2010. RSF compiles its annual survey based on 43 criteria measuring, among other violations, attacks and violence against journalists, as well as censorship and impunity enjoyed by those responsible for press freedom violation. http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2010,1034.html

Recent events also indicate whether Georgian press is free. On July 18, 2011, Georgia’s main newspapers published front pages without any photographs to protest the arrests of three photographers accused of espionage. One photographer said that he and his colleagues had been targeted for photographing the bloody aftermath of an opposition demonstration on 26 May when riot police clashed with protesters. “Our photos travel around the whole world and the press of many countries where Mikheil Saakashvili proudly presents the image of himself as a champion of democracy,” wrote Abdaladze. “He did not forgive us that we spoiled the image.” http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/2011/07/18/press-freedom-in-georgia-or-lack-thereof/

I’ll give the last word to President Mikheil Saakashvili. In April 2010, he said that complaints about press freedom in Georgia were “total bullshit.” He said: “I usually hear complaints that there is no press freedom live on television. Georgia has channels that are more or less sympathetic towards the government, tend to be sympathetic [towards the government], but there are channels, that are totally against the government, [they] hate the government,” Saakashvili said. “But even sympathetic ones are less sympathetic [towards the Georgian government] than CNN towards the Democratic Party and print media is 95% against the government. Everything is said in Georgia, there are no taboos; there are no libel, defamation laws.” http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22237

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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