The media’s access to information is being severely limited
Several broadcasters and online outlets have expressed serious concern over the media’s access to public information. These organizations have noted that the problem has gotten noticeably worse in recent months and is limiting citizens’ access to information in the pre-election period.
From May 1 to August 30, the Information Centers Network (ICN), an organization that manages several regional online media outlets and a community radio, filed 14 administrative complaints with several local administrative bodies regarding the lack of response to their public information requests. The requested information was predominantly related to the activities of local officials, their assets, and their use of state financial programs.
The director of ICN, Gela Mtivlishvili, says that the complaints were not considered despite the expiration of statutory deadlines. “We are compelled to obtain and verify information from unofficial sources. This increases the risk of spreading misinformation and requires more time from journalists to check facts. It is especially problematic that there are no sanctions against restricting the freedom of information.”
Natia Kuprashvili, the director of the Alliance of Regional Broadcasters, an organization that unites 31 TV and radio broadcasters across Georgia’s regions, says that it is difficult to access public information from local administrative bodies and political parties.
Kuprashvili says the main problems lie in the failure of the local self-government bodies to proactively update their websites with mandatory public information. She also notes that there is an absence of designated officers at the local self-government bodies responsible for processing and releasing public information. Furthermore, the government’s website has been under construction for most of the pre-election period, which has hindered journalists’ ability to swiftly access crucial public information.
As for access to local politicians and political party offices: “the problem is created by centralized decision-making practices and centralized information management,” says Kuprashvili. She notes that very often, the representatives of political parties in the regions re-direct journalists to their central offices and party leaders.
Access to public information has been a problem in Georgia for years. In 2014, civil society organizations prepared a draft Freedom of Information Act in agreement with the Ministry of Justice. However, it was never initiated by the government. Currently, access to public information is addressed by the General Administrative Code of Georgia and several other legal and normative acts.