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Statement: Panorama program of Imedi TV company aired a discriminative reportabout Georgia's Samtskhe-Javakheti Region and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway on 23 March, 2014, which violated a number of provisions of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters.
Media Development Fund (MDF), Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) and Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) assessed the report as attempt to mislead the audience and artificially dramatize the situation.
The presenter of the program, Soso Katsitadze, drew an unjustified parallel between the annexation of Crimea and a statement of the member of Armenian parliament, Shirak Torosyan, about a revolt in Javakheti, and associated it (without identifying either a source or origin of this statement) with the position of ethnic Armenians living in Georgia.
Soso Katsitadze, presenter:"What are the attitudes in Javakheti after the annexation of Crimea? The member of Armenian parliament Shirak Torosian threatens with the revolt in the event of Georgia's NATO membership. Indeed, Georgian citizens of ethnic descent do not have uniform attitude towards the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. Here the reason is NATO and Turkey too."
The authors of the statement believed that an attempt to manipulate with the public opinion could be observed on the part of both the presenter and the author of report, journalist Guram Rogava, since: (1) the respondents selected for the report are only those individuals who shared similar opinions; (2) these opinions were generalized through associating them with the entire group of Georgian citizens of Armenian descent; and (3) these opinions were covered as triggering anti-Turkish and anti-NATO sentiments.
Guram Rogava, journalist:"However, citizens of Armenian ethnicity living in Georgia are against this strategically important project [Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway]. For them the problem is Turkey."
The reporter attributed this attitude to the entire ethnic group (Georgian citizens of Armenian descent) relying on the comment of a single respondent - Mels Torosian, the editor of the Akhali Satave newspaper, who, for his part, spoke about potential threats based on rumors, not facts:
Mels Torosian, the editor of the Akhali Satave newspaper:"The key aim of the railway is the unification of Turkish people. That caused huge discontent because those firms which are constructing this railway have already spread reports that the Georgian government will entrust the security of the railway to Azerbaijanis. You are better aware of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia than I. The railway means not only the rails but stretches of land running along them - a kilometer on one side and a kilometer on another side; that means that Azerbaijanis will control the entire Javakheti."
According to NGOs the Imedi TV did not undertake measures to ensure due accuracy and avoid misleading the audience. The report did not provide the position of the Georgian government concerning allegation articulated by the respondent that the government intended to entrust the security of the railway to Azerbaijanis. By failing to seek comment from the government, the media outlet proved to be spreading rumors and artificially encouraging tensions. Even more, it was absolutely unacceptable for the journalist to generalize the theory proposed by the respondent and cover it in the context of threats and ethnic conflicts.
Guram Rogava, journalist:"The aim is the unification of Azerbaijan and Turkey and to force Armenians living in Georgia to emigrate."
The authors of the statement believed that covering the rights issue - the status of regional language - as something triggering separatism was absolutely unacceptable, especially when according to the comments provided in the report, the majority of respondents (Vahagn Chakhalyan, Artak Gagrielyan, Davit Rstakyan) viewed the portrayal of this issue in such a light as a provocation and expressed their desire to live in Georgia as in territorially integrated and unified state.
Even more, the report provided an alternative poll (vox pop) conducted by the journalist himself, in which anti-American and anti-European attitudes were presented against pro-Russian attitudes. Article 17(3) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters requires: "When reporting interactive poll results, broadcasters should make it clear that such surveys are not representative of the population as a whole, reliable or accurate as they only represent the views of self-selected audience." NGOs believed that this norm was ignored by the Imedi TV company.
According to NGOs Imedi TV company violated Article 33(1) of the Code,(Broadcasters should avoid drawing unjustified parallels between ethnic or religious origin and negative events, including associating activities of specific individuals with the entire group), Article 13(2) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters (Broadcasters shall provide reliable and accurate information, shall not report any untrue or misleading information); Article 14(4) (As a rule, broadcasters should not rely on a single source but seek to obtain information from other sources); Article 16(4) (Broadcasters should separate fact from opinion. One-sided interpretation of opinions should be avoided); Article 18(1, 2) (1. To ensure a fair and impartial coverage of political events, broadcasters should bear in mind that impartiality does not mean providing equal time to every opinion but ensuring an adequate coverage of significant opinions. 2. The programme or report will be considered biased if it lacks comprehensive information on important facts, is based on minor facts, misleads the audience intentionally or unintentionally, or conveys biased views of a person in a hidden form.) Article 17(3) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters (When reporting interactive poll results, broadcasters should make it clear that such surveys are not representative of the population as a whole, reliable or accurate as they only represent the views of self-selected audience).
NGOs believed that the Imedi TV company had to exercise a higher degree of caution in covering such sensitive topics that concern various ethnic groups and relations between them and must follow Article 32(1) of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, which required that "Broadcasters shall report accurate, reliable, balanced, proportional information on all cultural, religious, ethnic and social groups living in Georgia, with due regard to the principles of fairness and impartiality."
Media Development Foundation (MDF), Georgian Democracy Initiative(GDI) and Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) released a statement on March 24, 2014 calling on the Imedi TV company to be caution in covering such sensitive topics that concern various ethnic groups and relations between them.
Respond: On March 26 in a written comment given to the Internet portal media.ge, the editorial board responded to the statement. Board agreed to that part of the joint statement which stated that opinions of Georgian citizens of Armenian descent regarding the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway were excessively generalized. The editorial board expressed the readiness to exercise higher degree of caution when reporting topics related to ethnic minorities and to take into account all constructive remarks.