21 May the Public Defender Giorgi Tugushi circulated a statement claiming that facts of abuse of journalists and interference with professional activity have increased. He responded to GNS Studio Bela Zakaidze related incident (who was unable to implement her professional activities 11 May) and requested the Prosecutor’s Office to launch investigation. The Public Defender also expressed interest to the fact of detainment, verbal and physical abuse of journalist Gela Mtivlishvili.
In Georgian reality these incidents are not an exception and rights of journalists are being violated more and more frequently. Organizations aimed at protecting rights of journalists are being founded often also, although their role in protecting journalists’ rights is quite weak.
18 July 2010, Trade Union of Mass Media Workers was officially founded. The Founding Congress, in which participated over 100 journalists from different media outlets ofGeorgiaelected a 15-member Management Board. Considering the fact that work activity of regional media was noticeable at the Congress it was decided to add to the board regional coordinators according to the regional-administrative division of the country.
The action of the new trade union considered extension of the newly founded organization, gaining membership in International Federation of Journalists and close cooperation with other international structures. Trade Union of Mass media Workers founding Congress main priority is protection of labor, social-economic rights of mass media workers and promoting the activities that will insure freedom of speech and expression, social justice by means of strong, solidary, independent trade union,” jointly adopted document reads.
The event which ended with official reception was attended by: Oliver Reisner – EU Delegation in Georgia, US Trade Unions Solidarity Center Georgia Program Director Robert Fielding, representatives of The Trade Union of Italy Massimiliano Colombi and Maurizio Petrizioli, Representative of the Eurasia Foundation in Georgia Tamar Zurabishvili, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Georgia Director Ia Tikanadze, Chairman of the United Trade Unions of Georgia Irakli Petriashvili. Trade Union of Mass Media Workers ofGeorgiawas founded by support from the United Trade Unions of Georgia and Friedrich Ebert Foundation Georgia.
“Everything was very interesting, but as they say the Congress was just fun. I do not even remember the last time the Board was gathered,” member of Board of the Trade Union of Mass Media Workers, journalist Tsotne Gegechkori says. The organization failed to fulfill its function. Gegechnkori believes that one of the main reasons for the failure of the Trade Union of Mass Media Workers was the union of significantly different people by means of approach to journalistic ethics. According to him, it would be impossible to imagine journalistic activity without ethical principles and polemics related to it.
“You can’t find common language with people who are not journalists any more, but work for propaganda. Several of my coworkers refused to join this organization right to this reason. This is our today’s reality; journalism is divided into two poles (opposition and government supporters) and everyone knows it. I have good personal relations with many, but professionally they are somewhere else.”
Beka Oniani, Executive Secretary of the Trade Union of Mass Media Workers says that founding of such type of organization was reasoned by the general situation created in Georgian journalism. For example, how the rights of media workers were being violated. The Trade Union has 200 members now, although, according to the Executive Secretary, it is a formal membership. “This is not an active organization,” he says, “there was a potential and many journalists wanted to create strong organization, especially in regions, but… probably better organization activities was necessary.”
Beka Oniani believes the failure of the organization was mainly caused by lack of coinciding order, although, recognizes that the Trade Union of Mass Media Workers did not adequately react to problems of journalists. “We did not, or could not react, unfortunately,” Oniani says. “We must recognize that the current Board failed to conduct necessary work. I still believe such type of organization will not bring results.”
Representatives of another organization – Solidarity for Media Freedom – think different. The organization was formed for protecting journalists in December 2011. Organization member, newspaper Alia Responsible Editor Dimitry Tikaradze says that founding of the new organization was reasoned by frequented facts of oppression of journalists. “Idea came from Mamuka Glonti and it appeared during the process of the scandalous case of photo-reporters. We all saw at that time that unity is a great force,” he says, - “Later when Maestro faced problems because of Erosi Kitsmarishvili the idea turned into work.” Tikaradze promises that the new media organization will always be effective and its members will not have problems.”
Solidarity for Media Freedom Organization was officially founded in April; although before that the Organization Memorandum was signed by 41 independent media organizations (including both printed and electronic media.)
Dimitry Tikaradze explains that Solidarity for Media Freedom will react to all the problems media faces. “A four-member group of media representatives, lawyer and creative people will be created for each problem and they will organize protest events,” he says, - “We introduced an electronic voting mechanism and agreed that decision made by two-thirds of all the members will be obligatory for execution by all members.”
Solidarity for Media Freedom Organization has already organized a rally – “Regulate, do not Limit!” at the Georgian National Communications Commission in support to broadcasters. Before that it supported Maestro TV. Tikaradze says several more actions are planned for the future. In its essence it is a union of media owners, which will fight for finding solutions to problems media organizations are facing. Although, Tikaradze says the Organization will also protect labor rights of individual journalists.
Protection of labor rights in this case means fighting against interference with professional activities of journalists; although, there are other labor rights also, which appear inside media organizations between employers and employees. Such problems exist and the clearest evidence of this the ridiculous contracts that employees of one of the largest broadcaster of Georgiawere requested to sign. (Please see Netgazeti article for the details on the given topic.) Netgazeti newspaper reports that according to new employment contracts of Imedi TV, the broadcaster management has the right to fine employees with GEL 50 thousand.
The situation in this view is not better in the media organizations the majority of which “walk under the flag” of democracy, freedom of speech and civil development. Georgian journalists have not yet managed to united for changing the given reality.