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Self Regulation Practice

NGOs and individual vs. Georgian Public Broadcaster

Complaint: On April 19, at 13:00 the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) provided the live broadcast of the Holy Fire Easter ceremony with TV commentary of the event offered by representatives of Orthodox clergy.

While commenting the religious ceremony, a cleric talked about the Anti-Discrimination Law which the Parliament of Georgia had passed in its first reading and in this light, he made discriminatory statements about LGBT persons and used offensive terminology ("perverted relationship"). Comments indicated that equalizing sexual minority with ethnic and religious minorities, including their labour rights, was unacceptable for the Orthodox Church and the adoption of the law would end up in confrontation between citizens.

Statements made by the cleric commentator: "this will be an offence to our belief and traditions of our church and nation and will definitely lead to clashes among nation", "because of these sins people will be punished with rain of sulfur and fire".

The Authors of the complaint - the following nongovernmental organizations: Media Development Foundation, Tolerance and Diversity Institute, Identoba, Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, Women's Initiatives Supporting Group, Women's Fund in Georgia, Safari, Article 42 and individual Nino Bolkvadze believed that by comments made during the live broadcast the GPB violated a number of provisions of the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting as well as the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters and the GPB's in-house Code of Conduct. According to authors of the complaint the following articles were breached:

Article 16 (a) of the Law on Broadcasting obliges the GPB to "ensure editorial independence, the fairness and impartiality of programs and guarantee that the latter are free from state, political, religious or commercial influence," which was not observed in this case.

GPB violated the Article 31 of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, defining the principles of diversity, equality and tolerance and Article 33 "Guidelines for diversity, equality and tolerance". Namely, "Broadcasters shall refrain from publishing any material likely to incite hatred or intolerance on the grounds of race, language, gender, religious convictions, political opinions, ethnic origin, geographic location, or social background (Article 31)"; "Broadcasters should avoid causing offence to any religious, ethnic or other groups by using, among others, certain terminology and images (Article 33.3)".

According to authors of the complaint, TV channel also violated the Code of Conduct of the GPB, preamble of which declares the following principles:Public values- "We should exercise a high degree of responsibility when covering issues that might be harmful and offensive for certain groups of the society";Diversity- "We should ensure fair reporting of issues related to minority groups";Equality- " We should avoid discrimination of people on the grounds of their religion, ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation".

Article 15 of the GPB's Code of Conduct provides detailed regulations how to avoid discrimination on various grounds as well as recommendations how to cover religious programs and the topics related to sexual minorities; these regulations were not observed by the channel in this particular case.

It is a widespread practice in media to invite commentators for broadcasting different events. On such occasions, for the aim of observing the law and codes of conduct, "Requirements to authored programmes" (Article 17 of Code of Conduct for Broadcasters) apply to anchors of different events. In this particular case, the GPB violated Article 17 (2) of Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, according to which "presenters of authored programmes should not use their position to report opinions in a way that may violate the impartiality of the programme."

On April 23 Nongovernmental Organizations filed a complaint to the self-regulation body of the Georgian Public Broadcaster.

Decision of self-regulatory body: The self-regulatory body of GPB did not satisfy the complaint. The written decision dated May 22, 2014 issued by General-Director of GPB was delivered to the NGOs on May 22. The authors of the complaint had no opportunity to attend the hearing.

Motivation: The self-regulatory body discussed the complaint within the legal context and guided by existing legal regulation of "freedom of the speech and expression".

Appeal: NGOs appealed against the decision made by the self-regulatory body to the Board of Trustees of GPB, as they believed that by not allowing them to attend the hearing, the 9th and 11th Articles of Broadcaster Code of Conduct were violated.

Also, the appellant organizations concluded that the self-regulatory body fundamentally misconstrued the case by discussing the disputable norms within legal form instead of reviewing them within professional ethics and public accountability prism.

NGOs requested to revise the decision made on May 22 and to discuss the compliance of clergy's statements with the 17 th, 31 th, 33 th, and 15th Articles of the Code of Conduct.

Decision of Board of Trustees: On July 14 Board of Trustees partially satisfied the appeal; In particular, the board agreed that the authors had to have opportunity to attend the hearing of the self-regulatory body, however upheld the decision made by the self-regulatory body.

Monitoring Board of GPB: On August 22, 2014 GBP Monitoring Board agreed with the applicants' position and ruled that the Board of Trustees had not fulfilled its primary function to discuss the case within the "Code of Conduct".

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