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The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has said he ‘is not convinced’ that Georgia needs a media ombudsman. The announcement comes in response to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s 6 March initiative to establish the position.
Local media recently picked up the story after discovering the comments in a 10 August report in which the OSCE expert says that such an institution would be a ‘new phenomenon’ in Georgia, and claims that it needs ‘acceptance and a high degree of public confidence’.
[For details, see: Media Ombudsman initiative met with scepticism in Georgia]
The report reflects widespread sentiment among local media rights groups, who say that existing institutions, such as the Public Defender and the independent Charter of Journalistic Ethics, could take on the same role.
‘It could be reasonable to discuss what these institutions lack in order to work more effectively’, the report says.
The document is based on interviews with the government and media groups conducted by independent media law expert Dainius Radzevičius, who chairs the Lithuanian Journalists Union.
It comes six months after Kvirikashvili announced his plans to establish the media ombudsman, inviting international media observers and experts to cooperate on the initiative. He did not detail what powers and responsibilities the press ombudsman would have.
The initiative was announced only days after Georgia’s Supreme Court handed over control of Georgia’s most popular TV channel, the opposition-leaning Rustavi 2, to its former owner Kibar Khalvashi, who critics accuse of having close ties to the government. The timing led many to label the move as an empty gesture to give the impression that the government is concerned about independent journalism.
‘While such an institution should be established only after full engagement of all actors, the expert so far is not convinced that establishment of this institution is indeed necessary’, the report reads.
It explains that in many countries, the press ombudsman reviews complaints against the media, and in some cases has the power to impose penalties, including financial ones, on media outlets.
As an alternative to this, the report suggests an advisory body that would help improve the legal environment for the media, assist them in tackling challenges such as propaganda, improving media literacy, and self-regulation, but would not have any punitive powers.
Georgia ranks 64th worldwide according to the World Press Freedom Index, published by international media rights organisation — Reporters Without Borders. According to the Index, reforms over recent years have brought improvements to Georgia’s media landscape, including media ownership transparency, satellite TV pluralism, and an overhaul of the broadcasting regulatory authority.
According to the index, violence against journalists is less frequent than before, although threats are still often reported. However, the media continues to be polarised, and despite some progress, media owners often call the shots on editorial content. The continuing battle for ownership of the main TV channels is a source of concern for the future of media pluralism in the country, they state.