Speaking to an audience at a Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on April 27, President Saakashvili said he would “partly” agree with criticism over judiciary, but brushed off complaints about media freedom in Georgia as “total bullshit”.
“On judiciary I would agree partly; we are not still there; we are introducing jury trials this year [in Tbilisi],” he said and added that public confidence towards judiciary was only 20%, but increased “over 50% now”.
“It’s a cultural transformation to get independent judiciary; it’s very, very hard… I hope we will achieve this, but it takes time,” he said.
“On freedom of press it’s total bullshit; basically it’s done for naive foreigners; it’s an easy cliché to sell, also for your station for instance,” he told Jeffrey Gedmin, president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who moderated a panel featuring President Saakashvili.
“I usually hear complaints that there is no press freedom live on television. Georgia has channels that are more or less sympathetic towards the government, tend to be sympathetic [towards the government], but there are channels, that are totally against the government, [they] hate the government,” Saakashvili said.
“But even sympathetic ones are less sympathetic [towards the Georgian government] than CNN towards the Democratic Party and print media is 95% against the government. Everything is said in Georgia, there are no taboos; there are no libel, defamation laws,” he said.
Saakashvili also said that recently the Georgian Public Broadcaster launched on its Second Channel a C-SPAN-type programming to which “every radical group” had an access and where even “calls to kill minister of interior” were made – he was apparently alluding to remarks by ex-PM Zurab Nogaideli, leader of Movement for Fair Georgia, who said on April 7 about Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, that ballot fraud “may even cost him his life”.
On public broadcaster he also said that in its board of trustees half members were opposition representatives. Four members of the 15-member board, elected in December, 2009, were endorsed by several opposition parties.
He also said that the public broadcaster’s newsroom was advised by experts from BBC, but despite of that, Saakashvili said, the public broadcaster had only 3% of audience.
“Hopefully they will get more; it takes time,” he said. “But the problem is with journalistic standards.”