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As a guest of the talk show, Archevani, on air on Rustavi 2 TV, Irakli Sesiashvili, a member of the Parliamentary Majority, took part in the discussion about the facts of the seizure of Rustavi 2 property and the cancellation of journalist Inga Grigolia’s talk show on Imedi TV and Eka Mishveladze’s talk show on the Georgian Public Broadcaster. Mr Sesiashvili stated: "Reporters Without Borders published a report which includes the annual rankings about media freedom. Georgia was in the 120th

place in that ranking in 2008. Today, in 2015, we are number 69."

FactCheck

verified the accuracy of Irakli Sesiashvili’s statement.

Reporters Without Borders is an international non-governmental organisation engaged in researching media freedom indices

from 2002. The organization’s mission is given on its website: "To defend freedom of the press and journalists all around the world".

Reporters Without Borders publishes World Press Freedom Index annually. Georgia indeed was in the 120th place in 2008 which adequately reflected the facts of the limitation of media freedom by the previous government. In 2015, Georgia’s position improved as it was elevated to the 69th position in the ranking. However, 2015’s position is based upon data from the period

of 15 October 2013 to 14 October 2014. Therefore, the 2015 media freedom index reflects the data from the previous year with information about 2015 to be published in the 2016 report. Thus, the negative processes in the Georgia media which were launched in the summer of this year will be assessed in the following year’s report.

The Georgian Dream government has been criticising the media since it took power and called upon journalists to be more professional in their activities. On 3 October 2013, a meeting with media representatives with the then Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was assessed by the participating journalists as a "quarrel and a lecture in journalism" because Mr Ivanishvili accused them of being unprofessional. Mr Ivanishvili stated: "A lot of journalists give the impression that they are dilettantes and have no command of the issue… You are not postmen! You, journalists, have to verify the obtained information and analyse it. If you do not do this, you should not report and disseminate information without scrutiny. If you just take the information and then pass it on, this is a postal service. This is just sending a letter."

The former Prime Minister voiced similar statements several times. In October 2014, he declared: "The other TV channels, be it the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Maestro or Imedi, are more frustrating for me because these TV channels, either voluntarily or accidentally, practically repeat and push forward those issues which are promoted by Rustavi 2. What is the reason behind this? A lack of professionalism? Attitude? It might be so… I have named three TV channels and, unfortunately, it is nowhere to be seen that they have their own vision, that they are able to conduct independent research and analysis and do not simply repeat the topics which are put forward by Rustavi 2."

Since September 2014, interesting changes have been started in the media, in general, and in TV companies, in particular. Social and political broadcasts were closed at the Maestro TV channel. Maestro’s Deputy Director and main news anchor, Nino Zhizhilashvili, left the station. Other faces of Maestro – Vakho Sanaia, Diana Traipaidze and Nino Gegelia – also followed suit.

On 15 July 2014, one of the founders of the Rustavi 2 channel, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, was found dead from a gunshot wound in his own parking garage. A few days before his death, Mr Kitsmarishvili said the following at a briefing: "I want to tell Ivanishvili to look straight into my eyes when he talks about Rustavi 2 because both of us know a lot of things and if those things are disclosed, many people will suffer. Also, I call upon Kibar Khalvashi who, as he said in one of his videos, knows things that I do not know and so he should either say what he knows or keep silent forever." The investigation about Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s death is still in progress but his family’s lawyer points out the protracted process of the investigation into his death and is not satisfied by the performance of law enforcers.

Since the summer of 2015, developments in Georgian television media have been unfolding dynamically. On 5 August 2015, Tbilisi City Court seized the property of Rustavi 2. On 30 August 2015, after vague statements of explanation on the part of the management of the Imedi TV channel, two social and political talk shows were cancelled. One of the hostesses of the aforementioned talk shows, Inga Grigolia, stated the following after the cancellations: "The decision about the cancellations was made in Sololaki. It was Ivanishvili’s decision to end my talk shows.  Friends, please do not justify this decision. I think you will be in the opposition after two years." On 4 September 2015, Eka Mishveladze’s broadcast was shut down owing to her family affairs. Ms Mishveladze married Aleksi Petriashvili, a politician, which prompted the management of the Georgian Public Broadcaster to conclude that there was a conflict of interests in this case.

On 1 October 2015, pursuant to the request of Kibar Khalvashi, Tbilisi City Court seized the entire property of TV Georgia which owns 51% of the shares of Rustavi 2. This decision rendered impossible the conclusion of the contract with TV Georgia’s partners which envisaged the transfer of several GEL million to Rustavi 2’s account. Rustavi 2’s Director, Nika Gvaramia, stated: "The fact that nobody stormed our office and cut the cable does not mean that the Government of Georgia is not closing us down. The restoration of a cut cable is much easier as compared to financial damage which is more serious."

The legal dispute surrounding Rustavi 2 is still in progress with the final decision to be announced on 28 October 2015 unless the judge postpones the announcement of the resolution part of the decision.

Against the backdrop of the developments associated with Rustavi 2 and the general situation in the Georgian media, the assessments of NGOs and international organisations, together with those countries with which Georgia maintains friendly relations, became stricter toward the Government of Georgia.

According to the assessment

of leading Georgian NGOs, the different sorts of fundamental changes which started in September 2015 in the three most popular national TV channels raises suspicions about the attempt of interference in their editorial independence. This, in turn, poses danger to media pluralism and the awareness of the electorate for the interim and the next Parliamentary elections.

According to the statement of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, made on 22 October 2015, Rustavi 2 is experiencing severe financial and logistical limitations following the August court decision which, in turn, deprive the channel of the possibility to work freely. Ms Mijatovic further stated: "If not lifted soon, the court order will entail serious restrictions upon the diversity and plurality of the media in the country. I also noted statements by some high-level government officials on the matter which might negatively influence the court proceedings."

On 26 October 2015, the local representation of the European Union to Georgia issued a statement

about the Rustavi 2 case: "We refrain from commenting upon the merits of individual court cases but we have concerns to be addressed and we expect that the principles of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and media freedom are applied in practice in Georgia at this important moment. The limitation or the disruption of an important media outlet would have the potential to weaken the democratic process, including the conduct of the elections scheduled for October 2016. We call upon all state institutions and political actors to refrain from any further steps or statements that could increase tensions and foster polarisation."

The Official Representative of the US Department of State, Mark Toner, emphasised the great interest of the White House toward the problems of Rustavi 2 and advised the Government of Georgia to observe the highest standards of justice in every legal aspect concerning the media: "We take seriously any actions that would give the appearance of compromising media pluralism or media freedom which causes sincere concern for us, especially before the Parliamentary elections." The US Ambassador to Georgia has also made multiple statements about this case.

Conclusion Even though Irakli Sesiashvili’s statement about Georgia’s progress in the ranking of media freedom is factually true, its context is incorrect. The MP used the Reporters Without Borders ranking as a response to the criticism which was offered against the Government of Georgia for the developments which have been unfolding over the last few months in the Georgian media. However, the latest data of the organisation’s media freedom index is based upon the analysis of the period from 15 October 2013 to 14 October 2014. In this particular period, there were no suspicions about the Government of Georgia’s attempt to curb media freedom (if we do not take into account the statements of the former Prime Minister and the current members of the Government of Georgia). It can be stated that the real problems in the country’s media started in the summer of 2015 when several facts emerged raising suspicions about the government’s interference in limiting media freedom. Therefore, it is hard to say how this year’s developments will be reflected in the forthcoming new Reporters Without Borders report. As we have already noted, the results of the research, named by Irakli Sesiashvili, do not reflect the data of 2015 but of the previous year and, therefore, are IRRELEVANT for describing the present situation.