Tolerance and Diversity Institute

Joint Statement on Imedi TV Company’s Report Concerning Situation in Samtskhe-Javakheti Region

We express our concern over a report about Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti Region, which was aired on Panorama program of Imedi TV company on 23 March. We believe that the report violated a number of provisions of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, inter alia, by misleading the audience and artificially dramatizing the situation.

We do hope that the report does not express intentional editorial policy of the TV company and call on the management of Imedi TV to react to the violations by the presenter of the program and the author of the report of following provisions of the Code of Conduct:

According to Article 33(1) of the Code, “Broadcasters should avoid drawing unjustified parallels between ethnic or religious origin and negative events, including associating activities of specific individuals with the entire group.”

The presenter of the program, Soso Katsitadze, violated the mentioned provision by drawing an unjustified parallel between the annexation of Crimea and a statement of the member of Armenian parliament, Shirak Torosyan, about a revolt in Javakheti, and associating it (without identifying either a source or origin of this statement) with the position of ethnic Armenians living in Georgia.

Soso Katsitadze, presenter: “What are the attitudes in Javakheti after the annexation of Crimea? The member of Armenian parliament Shirak Torosian threatens with the revolt in the event of Georgia’s NATO membership. Indeed, Georgian citizens of ethnic descent do not have uniform attitude towards the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. Here the reason is NATO and Turkey too.”

An attempt to manipulate with the public opinion can be observed on the part of both the presenter and the author of report, journalist Guram Rogava, since: (1) the respondents selected for the report are only those individuals who share similar opinions; (2) these opinions are generalized through associating them with the entire group of Georgian citizens of Armenian descent; and (3) these opinions are covered as triggering anti-Turkish and anti-NATO sentiments.

Guram Rogava, journalist: “However, citizens of Armenian ethnicity living in Georgia are against this strategically important project [Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway]. For them the problem is Turkey.”

The reporter attributes this attitude to the entire ethnic group (Georgian citizens of Armenian descent) relying on the comment of a single respondent - Mels Torosian, the editor of the Akhali Satave newspaper, who, for his part, speaks about potential threats based on rumors, not facts:

Mels Torosian, the editor of the Akhali Satave newspaper: “The key aim of the railway is the unification of Turkish people. That caused huge discontent because those firms which are constructing this railway have already spread reports that the Georgian government will entrust the security of the railway to Azerbaijanis. You are better aware of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia than I. The railway means not only the rails but stretches of land running along them – a kilometer on one side and a kilometer on another side; that means that Azerbaijanis will control the entire Javakheti.”

The Imedi TV did not undertake measures to ensure due accuracy and avoid misleading the audience. The report did not provide the position of the Georgian government concerning allegation articulated by the respondent that the government intends to entrust the security of the railway to Azerbaijanis. By failing to seek comment from the government, the media outlet proved to be spreading rumors and artificially encouraging tensions. Even more, it is absolutely unacceptable for the journalist to generalize the theory proposed by the respondent and cover it in the context of threats and ethnic conflicts.

Guram Rogava, journalist: “The aim is the unification of Azerbaijan and Turkey and to force Armenians living in Georgia to emigrate.”

Imedi TV company violated Article 13(2) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters (Broadcasters shall provide reliable and accurate information, shall not report any untrue or misleading information); Article 14(4) (As a rule, broadcasters should not rely on a single source but seek to obtain information from other sources); Article 16(4) (Broadcasters should separate fact from opinion. One-sided interpretation of opinions should be avoided); Article 18(1, 2) (1. To ensure a fair and impartial coverage of political events, broadcasters should bear in mind that impartiality does not mean providing equal time to every opinion but ensuring an adequate coverage of significant opinions. 2. The programme or report will be considered biased if it lacks comprehensive information on important facts, is based on minor facts, misleads the audience intentionally or unintentionally, or conveys biased views of a person in a hidden form.)

Covering the rights issue – the status of regional language – as something triggering separatism is absolutely unacceptable, especially when according to the comments provided in the report, the majority of respondents (Vahagn Chakhalyan, Artak Gagrielyan, Davit Rstakyan) view the portrayal of this issue in such a light as a provocation and express their desire to live in Georgia as in territorially integrated and unified state.

The Code of Conduct for Broadcasters also provides the norms designed to avoid the manipulation with the public opinion. A public opinion poll cited in the report, which was conducted by a local newspaper, suggests that 70 percent of the local population favors the European integration whilst 30 percent is against. However, the report fails to provide necessary information about the public opinion poll such as: the number of people interviewed, a margin of error, geographic area, et cetera.

Even more, the report provides an alternative poll (vox pop) conducted by the journalist himself, in which anti-American and anti-European attitudes are presented against pro-Russian attitudes. Article 17(3) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters requires: “When reporting interactive poll results, broadcasters should make it clear that such surveys are not representative of the population as a whole, reliable or accurate as they only represent the views of self-selected audience.” This norm was ignored by the Imedi TV company.

We believe that the Imedi TV company must exercise a higher degree of caution in covering such sensitive topics that concern various ethnic groups and relations between them and must follow Article 32(1) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, which requires that “Broadcasters shall report accurate, reliable, balanced, proportional information on all cultural, religious, ethnic and social groups living in Georgia, with due regard to the principles of fairness and impartiality.”

We express the hope that Imedi TV company will adequately react to the report aired on Panorama program and by doing so, will first and foremost display its accountability and respect towards society.

Media Development Fund, MDF

Georgian Democracy Initiative, GDI

Tolerance and Diversity Institute, TDI