Media monitoring exposes problems in Georgian media
Violations of the presumption of innocence; revealing the identity of underage victims and defendants; copying of positions and narratives of law enforcement agencies; unethical epithets; superficial reporting and lack of professionalism – these are the main findings of the Human Rights Center’s monitoring of the Public Broadcaster's news program and various print media outlets.
Monday, 28 May 2012
The aim of the monitoring was to find out how various social and political issues are reported in the media and how it reflects on the development of civic society. Media monitoring is a new term in Georgia and the number of media monitors with relevant theoretical and practical experience is small. In the framework of a UNDP project, Human Rights Center's media monitors were given an opportunity to study the problems of the Georgian media and report their conclusions.
The UNDP project “Development of Media Monitoring in Georgia” was carried out with financial support from the EU. During the initial stage, media monitors were trained in how to evaluate the covering of social and economical issues in Georgian media. The actual monitoring was carried out from May through December of 2011, and the results were recently published. Seven nongovernmental organizations participated in the monitoring process , covering different social and economical issues and media outlets.
Monitors from the Human Rights Center looked into the coverage of judicial and environmental issues in in the following Georgian media outlets: newspapers Alia, Resonansi, Akhali Taoba and the main news program of the Public Broadcaster, Moambe.
The monitoring revealed that the approach of the Georgian media when reporting on environmental issues is quite uniform: the topic is considered to be of secondary importance. Seemingly, editorial boards consider such articles or TV reports less profitable from a commercial point of view. However, Human Rights Center's monitors pointed out that the Public Broadcaster, as a non-profit-oriented channel, should not prioritize advertisers and ratings over its responsibility to report on these issues. Funding for the Public Broadcaster (PB) is provided by the government and its accountability to society is accordingly higher. Thus, the PB should put more of an effort into reporting on environmental issues.
More problems were observed when monitoring coverage of judicial issues in the media. Human Rights Center, as a human rights organization, revealed several alarming trends during the monitoring process. The shortcomings were most obvious in the Public Broadcaster’s main daily news program, Moambe.
More specifically, the monitoring revealed that certain media outlets have problems that connected to the reporting on judicial issues and the upholding of professional standards.
Materials that were published in the newspapers or aired by the TV channel under study were frequently unbalanced and biased, failing to separate between facts and opinions. Another problem concerns the professionalism of journalists. Very often, journalists are unfamiliar with legal regulations and the subject of the report. Sometimes they mix up legal terms, demonstrating poor knowledge of the field (law) they are reporting on.
The study of the Georgian media exposed articles (Alia) and reports (Moambe) which frequently violated the presumption of innocence. On several occasions, journalists at Moambe breached professional and ethical standards when they revealed the identity of underage victims and offenders.
The Human Rights Center's monitors 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 on criminal cases, journalists presented video materials that were produced by police agencies. They fully reported 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 in their reporting on the detention of their colleagues for alleged spying, the so called “Photo Reporters’ Case”. Even the title of the news segment, “Means of Recruitment”, revealed the biased attitude of the program's journalists and editorial staff. The airing of the story contained an unprecedented 20 minutes of unbalanced material.
The Human Rights Center's monitors presented their findings during the Public Broadcaster’s TV-program Media Monitor. This TV program was created as part of a joint project between UNDP and the EU's mission in Georgia. The research findings on the coverage of important issues and current trends in print media, radio, online, or on TV are all presented during the program.
On May 14, Media Monitor invited Eka Popkhadze from the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and law expert Kakha Tsikarishvili to speak about Human Rights Center's findings about the coverage of judicial issues. For the discussion about the findings on coverage of environmental issues, the program invited the coordinator of the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, Rezo Getiashvili, and the co-chairperson of the Green Movement – Friends of the Earth, Nino Chkhobadze. The experts all agreed with the conclusions of the Human Rights Center’s monitors.
Eka Popkhadze from GYLA said the media-monitoring revealed that Georgian media pays particular attention to the accused and focuses less on lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. Additionally, in news reports, facts are not separated from opinions . Headlines and journalists' comments are often biased. Certain sides are represented in the headlines, for example the news item “Means of Recruitment”, which presented the side of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and tried to persuade 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 showing subjects mostly discussed during coverage did not include lawyers at all. It is also noteworthy that the investigation process is under particular focus with journalists disinterested in what happened afterwards. However, the Ethics Code obliges the Public Broadcaster to report about the judicial process too in order to provide the public with full information on how the case ended, whether the defendant was found guilty or not. It is important for the presumption of innocence when the accused is found not guilty to restore 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 the government, MIA and the courts are described in a positive tone and the accused in a negative tone. On the other hand, newspapers favor the accused over governmental institutions. One of the reasons for this situation is that media outlets use various sources of information – Moambe relies on materials provided by the MIA while the newspapers mostly rely on information from the non-parliamentary opposition and nongovernmental organizations.”
Law expert Kakha Tsikarishvili said journalists face problems in obtaining comments and it might be the cause of shortcomings in their news items and articles, but at the same time justice is a complex field and cannot be summed up by only one position. “There is a saying – two lawyers have three opinions. When working on these issues, the journalist must bear the responsibility of maintaining balance and present the opinions of both parties. The absence of an alternative opinion is rare in this field, particularly during the investigatory stage when the defense and the prosecution have completely different positions. Another serious problem are news items where the defendant claims one thing and the prosecutor claims another. In this situation the public cannot figure out the real situation because the journalists do not approach independent experts for comments and do not indicate which party is right.”
When speaking about the coverage of environmental issues in Georgian media, the invited experts said that the superficial coverage of the issue might be caused by the low number of environmental nongovernmental organizations and deficiencies in media communication. However, they think the media should try to contact NGOs on these issues because there are many problems of urgent importance in the environmental field and media must report on them thoroughly.