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Imedi journalist under fire for potential data breach of her critics

29 November 2022
Bakuradze calling her online detractors. Screengrab from Imedi.

A Georgian state agency is investigating a potential breach of personal data in an ‘experimental’ TV report by the pro-government Imedi channel, which allegedly featured off-the-record interviews. Watchdog groups worry that the investigation might set a dangerous precedent for media freedom in the country.

Georgia’s Personal Data Protection Service announced an investigation into the report produced by Imedi journalist Marika Bakuradze on Monday.

The statement followed public outrage over Bakuradze tracking down critics of her previous TV report on Facebook and confronting them on the phone for using disrespectful language in their feedback. 

Bakuradze received criticism for a 9 November TV report that scrutinised ‘Hollywood’s perpetuation of the image of feminine men’, giving the examples of Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet. Some commentators on social media deemed it ‘distasteful’ or ‘homophobic’.

In response, the journalist claimed that she was a victim of hate speech, and dedicated a separate report to online bullying.

‘The more aggressive a person is, the more cowardly they are’, noted one of the guests of the live talk show Imedis Dghe before the program aired Bakuradze’s report of her confronting her critics on the phone.

Some of those Bakuradze called claimed she had breached their privacy by reaching out to them on private numbers and airing off-the-record conversations without their explicit consent. 

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Londa Toloraia, the former state inspector and founder of the Rule of Law Centre, speculated that state agencies might have provided the journalist with contact information for her critics.

Imedi is known for its pro-government stance and often critical coverage of ‘radical opposition’ groups.

Both Toloraia and the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics warned that the Data Protection Service’s probe into the report could be illegitimate.

The Charter, while criticising the ethics of Imedi’s latest report, underlined that the Georgian Law on Personal Data Protection permits the use of personal information by the media to ‘inform the public’.

In their initial response to concerns about a potential state overreach, the Personal Data Protection Service cited paragraph 4 of Article 3 of the Law, which they claim would allow them to investigate whether an outlet has used personal information unlawfully.

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