Georgian Public Broadcaster statement on Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics
Georgian Public Broadcaster statement on Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics

Georgian Public Broadcaster would like to respond to the media coverage survey of the 2020 parliamentary elections in Georgia that has been implemented by two Georgian organizations, the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and Internews Georgia in partnership with the European Union and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

GPB has many remarks regarding the published reports. Most of them deal with the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics.

The final reports of this organization, similar to the interim reports published earlier, serve to discredit the GPB, resulting in the misguided perception of the editorial policy, and portray biased approaches to the broadcaster.

GPB would review the erroneous, illogical, and unjustified aspects of the reports published by the Charter based on the results of the independent election monitoring of the Georgian Public Broadcaster, systematically published on the GPB website, and a comparative analysis of the data.

Monitoring service analysts of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics highly dignify the qualitative part of their monitoring and indicate that this is the principal basis for the final assessment. A qualitative analysis of the election newscast, with a view to its further practical use, would have been crucial to GPB if not for the completely unacceptable approaches used by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics in assessing the GPB First Channel.

We underline that the report neither mirrors the facts of physical and psychological violence against GPB journalists nor obstruction of their professional activities while covering the election process. The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics monitored the very programs, which repeatedly covered similar criminal acts during the reporting period. For example, the Akhali Kvira [New Week] program aired a 15-minute response story on the disinformation spread by various media outlets against the GPB First Channel on October 4, 2020. The matter concerns the attack on journalists near the Georgian Dream office in Marneuli. Among representatives of other media outlets, the GPB cameraman was physically assaulted, and his camera was smashed. This case, along with many others, was disregarded by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics. The assault fact would have evoked a sense of solidarity with the GPB and could hardly be assessed as a GPB loyalty towards the government and the ruling party. The assessment that the Charter of Journalistic Ethics constantly and unequivocally emphasizes in each report.

We also consider that different assessment of the same format and equal time allotted to the candidates in news programs by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics manifests the negative prejudice and subjective approach to the GPB. Reporting on the Moambe news program, the 2020 report reads that “even this format fails to provide comprehensive information to the voter ” (p. 7, TV News), while relatively to other media, “this format helped to inform voters better” (p. 14, TV News).

It is also inconsistent and biased when the media monitoring report singles out coverage of the United Opposition rallies by one of the media outlets. The assessment reads: “It actively covered the October 31 parliamentary elections and all the protests and rallies organized by the United Opposition after the elections, it was always in the middle of events and allowed all opposition parties to express their views and positions.” (p. 47, TV News) At the same time, the report reads that GPB completely ignored coverage of the same rallies. The Charter’s report did not treat live, uninterrupted, and split-screen coverage of the opposition rallies in Moambe and Akhali Kvira news programs. In November, the GPB devoted many special and non-standard programs to cover the rallies (the total time of live coverage of the United Opposition rallies totaled 20:50:16).

The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, which points out the lack of in-depth coverage by the media organizations, on its part, presented superficial, incompetent reports. The analysis of the editorial policies and TV stories in the survey does not go beyond the same stories’ periphrasis, and the reasoning is often inconsistent and contradicts the logic. For example, the section entitled Content Results reads that the final word in the Moambe’s TV reports belongs to the ruling team (p. 7, TV News), which contradicts the first report on the surveyed coverage of Davit Gareji case. The media monitoring report reads that “a brief comment of the parliamentary opposition members ends the TV report.” (p. 8, TV News). It is noteworthy that the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics spreads false information. Moambe’s report aired on October 16 showed minute-long comments of opposition representatives Sergi Kapanadze, Nika Melia, Giorgi Vashadze, while the TV story ends with the arguments of the detainees’ lawyers about the innocence of their clients (1 minute and 35 seconds). Therefore, the summary presented by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics that “GPB viewers were not provided with accurate information about the Davit Gareji case and no information was provided that this case is under trial” (p. 9, TV News), is targeted misinformation.

The media monitoring report negatively assessed the fact that Moambe covered the statement and activities of the organization Davasrulot [Let’s End]: “Coverage of similar calls and actions of the alike organization ahead of the elections creates a negative background to the detriment of the opposition” (p. 9, TV News). Unfortunately, the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics did not pay attention during the monitoring process that Moambe systematically and equally covered activities of both the government and pro-opposition organizations, thus promoting maximum awareness of the voters. On November 17, GPB covered the rally of the organization Ar Datmos [Do not give up] in front of the Adjara Government building, as well as allocated air to coverage of activities of the Sirtsxvilia [Shame] and Shetsvale [Change] movements in various programs.

The attempt of the monitoring organization to find signs of loyalty towards the government in the neutral text of the GPB journalists is unconvincing, the report provides no solid evidence. At the same time, the question of the journalist – Do you agree with the wording that a sincere protest was used for political interests? – that the monitoring NGO assessed as a reiteration of the Georgian Dream’s position (p. 12 TV News), is legitimate to get an answer to the question that arises in the society.

The monitoring report carried out by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM noted the neutral tone of the GPB coverage. The National Communications Commission of Georgia also positively evaluated the GPB election process coverage. According to the media monitoring report, “the pre-election period was covered by the Georgian Public Broadcaster impartially and in full compliance with journalistic standards.”

It is noteworthy that the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics made mainly positive conclusions when evaluating talk shows. The report reads that “the presenter was equally critical of both the opposition and government officials. The talk show provided the viewer with comprehensive information… ”(p. 6, TV talk shows) or “Overall, the show was informative for the public ”(p. 8, TV talk shows), as well as “the average 30-minute face-to-face interviews were quite dynamic”. The presenter was well-prepared, was speaking calm, delicately interrupting the guest, and asking important and timely questions about specific facts ”(p. 8, TV talk shows). We quote to highlight the difference between reports prepared by the same organization. The monitoring organization presented these conclusions on the talk shows monitoring. At the same time, the TV News Final Report reads that the channel as a whole “had an uncritically loyal editorial policy towards the Government” (p. 7, TV News). It is an expression of unqualified, biased, and, perhaps, allegedly politically motivated approaches, which is unacceptable and disappropriate on behalf of the media monitoring organization.

In addition to the qualitative components, the accuracy of the quantitative data is also disputable. According to the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, GPB gave twice as much time to the Georgian Dream as the National Movement. This conclusion completely misses the results of the GPB internal monitoring and raises many questions. It is completely unclear in the report whether the candidate National Movement is counted as an electoral bloc or as a separate party, or why the time allotted to Mikheil Saakashvili is not considered as coverage of the National Movement. At the same time, according to GPB internal monitoring data, the time allotted to Mikheil Saakashvili in the Charter-selected reporting programs from July 15 to November 21 is 49 minutes and 16 seconds (direct 00:10:58, indirect 00:38:18) and not 1 hour, 21 minutes and 34 seconds as presented in the media monitoring report. We have a suspicion that certain aspects of the monitoring methodology are the basis for manipulative reasoning and do not serve to show the real picture in the media.

Another clear proof of the manipulation is the slide presented in the social media survey Coverage of Candidates on the First Channel that mismatches the same slide in the TV news report. The subject Mikheil Saakashvili has disappeared from the slide in the social media report. The percentages of other subjects are also different (p. 19 social media).

The conclusions drawn from the tone count in the report are also manipulative. The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics tries to convince us that the GPB covered Mikheil Saakashvili most negatively. The reasoning of the monitoring organization is based on the time allocated to each monitoring subject [which is inaccurate] but ignored the ratio of allocated time. Analyzing the tone of coverage of the subjects, the Charter of Journalistic Ethics believes the timing of the adverse reporting on Mikheil Saakashvili (47% of 1:21:34) is more than the timing of the negative coverage of the Georgian Dream (13% of 8:52:29 13%), which, we think, is an absurd conclusion. Judging by this logic, the GPB First Channel covered the party Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi, Irma Inashvili – Alliance of Patriots of Georgia in the most positive way in November (see the report published on the website of the First Channel on December 21). We think that even this one example we have analyzed is enough to demonstrate the incompetence and irresponsibility of the research conducted by the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics.

The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, an organization that should promote high journalistic standards, instead promotes a polarized media environment. It also reinforces stereotypes that are detrimental to the GPB reputation and pose a threat to the GPB journalists.

Unfortunately, these reports are only a subjective assessment of the media and assure us that the international organizations’ efforts to respond to the media challenges remain unfulfilled.