Assessment of Media Environment during the Second Round of Local Self-Government Elections

The Media Advocacy Coalition observed that journalists and cameramen faced significant challenges in performing their duties during the runoffs of local self-government elections on 30th October 2021. As a result, they were unable to carry out their professional duties freely. In almost all constituencies, they worked in an aggressive environment that put them at a high risk of verbal and physical assault. Law enforcement officers were unable to ensure their physical safety and effectively remove any obstacles.

At the start of election day, senior officials typically conveyed a negative attitude and used impolite language towards journalists in their public speeches. For instance, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, referred to a journalist from the opposition broadcaster Mtavari Arkhi TV as a "provocateur". MP Dachi Beraia called Formula TV journalist "a thug of the United National Movement".

The aggression of high-ranking officials had an immediate impact on the supporters of the ruling party. On the day of the vote, media representatives were attacked in almost every constituency. Coordinators from the Georgian Dream party physically assaulted journalists at the outer perimeter of the polling stations and attempted to impede their professional activities. Journalists were labelled as "activists," "thugs," "disinformers," and "representatives of the opposition".

Media representatives were subjected to harassment at both the polling stations and the external perimeter. During oneof the incidents, the so-called party coordinators attempted to conceal their identities and attempts to control voters’ will. Furthermore, the members of the election commission displayed inadequate level of the knowledge of their duties.

Facts of violations of journalists' rights in the vicinity of election precincts:

·      Near one of the polling stations in Gldani, Tbilisi, Nanuka Kajaia, a journalist from TV Pirveli was subjected to verbal abuse and faced illegal obstruction while performing her journalistic duties;

·      "Throw it away, otherwise I'll break your head!" -   in Martvil, Formula TV journalist Nano Chakvetadze was physically confronted by an unknown person when she attempted to ask questions;

·      The camera crew of TV Pirveli was subjected to verbal abuse by an individual near the polling station in Rustavi,probably a supporter of the Georgian Dream;

·      The Georgian Dream party coordinators confronted the journalist of Formula TV at the polling station in Zugdidi, using both verbal and physical aggression;

·      Journalist Nino Chakvetadze from Formula TV was attacked while at the 2nd polling station in Martvili;

·      TV Pirveli reported that a Georgian Dream supporter forcibly took the microphone from their journalist. An investigation into the incident has been launched;

·      According to TV Media Center, journalist Giga Gelkhviidze from TV Media Center reported that he faced verbal and physical challenges at the 14th polling station in Kutaisi;

·      Per Formula TV, their filming crew in Kutaisi was confronted by aggressive individuals who also subjected them to verbal insults;

·      At one of the polling stations, the election official verbally confronted a TV Pirveli journalist;

·      TV Pirveli reported that an observer from the Georgian Dream insulted and physically threatened their journalist;

·      The TV 25 team's camera was damaged in Batumi, and their journalistic work was disrupted. An investigation into the incident has commenced;

·      Furthermore, Teo Putkaradze, a journalist, was verbally and physically assaulted in Batumi. An investigation has been launched regarding the incident;

·      In the 15th precinct of Kutaisi, journalist Izabela Modebadze was prevented from carrying out her work by an aggressive individual who attempted to damage her equipment. Furthermore, this individual verbally and physically assaulted her;

·      In Gonio, both Formula TV and Mtavari Arkhi TV crews were attacked and subjected to both physical and verbal abuse. Additionally, during the incident, an individual touched the hair and insulted Formula TV journalist;

·      Aggressive activists from the Georgian Dream party in Poti attacked and verbally and physically abused Mtavari Arkhi TV journalist;

·      In Zemo Meskheti village, Formula TV journalist was pelted with a stone and verbally insulted.

·      Emma Gogokhia, Mtavari Arkhi TV journalist was also verbally assaulted at a polling station in Senaki. The representative from POSTV purposely obstructed the journalist's work.

Violation of Journalists' Rights at Polling Stations:

·      TV Monitoringjournalist was attacked and physically assaulted by an observer from the United National Movement party in the 2nd election precinct of Kareli Municipality. The opposition party issued a statement and suspended the right of representative shortly thereafter. An investigation has been initiated to address theincident.

·      According to "Gurianews", their journalist Jemal Gambashidze was expelled from the first polling station of Senaki by the Precinct Election Commission chairperson, in violation of legal requirements. The journalist was not permitted to return to the precinct and continue their journalistic activities. The member organization of the coalition - Transparency International - Georgia has prepared a complaint addressing the incident.

It is crucial for law enforcement agencies to implement measures to minimise disruption to journalistic activities. Simultaneously, they should conduct an efficient and prompt investigation into the attack on media representatives.

In response to the uncovered infringements, the Coalition reiterates its appeal to the ruling party to issue clear and explicit statements in support of press freedom.

It is of utmost importance that both the Prime Minister and the President of Georgia express their views on the significance of the safety of journalists and operators.

We urge the Central Election Commission to assess the adherence of the precinct and district commission members to the conduct rules for election administration officials and to take suitable measures to enhance their implementation.

The Media Advocacy Coalition remains committed to protecting media personnel. Journalists and operators are able to access legal guidance regarding the coverage of election procedures and the safeguarding of their rights via the hotline 555 795 776.