PM Irakli Garibashvili said that level of media freedom is “quite high” in Georgia, but its quality is “very low” like the “quality of civil society development.”
Speaking at a meeting with a group of students on August 4, Garibashvili said that “strong, objective, unbiased” civil society organizations are important for providing government oversight. But “often”, he said, the civil society organizations are “showing bias.”
“I am always ready for objective and fair criticism – I think that objective and fair criticism helps me and makes me stronger, but if the criticism is subjective just because to express interests of other political forces – that’s unfair and I will not accept such criticism,” he said.
Garibashvili recalled his “private conversation” with one senior EU official, whom he did not name, and said that during a visit in Tbilisi “several weeks ago” this official was “surprised” after hearing at a meeting with representatives of “leading” Georgian non-governmental organizations that they were “defending” opposition UNM party just because it was “weak.”
“Their main argument was that they wanted to defend the opposition party because it was getting weaker… This [EU official] pointed out to these [NGOs] that there is a clearly drawn line for them – there is government on the one side and there is opposition on the other, and there is a non-governmental sector in the middle, which should not incline towards either side,” Garibashvili said.
“Often, not always, they fail to distinguish… where the line of objectiveness is drawn. Identifying that line is the major challenge of today’s civil society,” he said. “I am always ready for consultations with the non-governmental sector and I am always ready to accept advices, complaints if they are backed by strong arguments.”
He then continued by speaking on media and said that it is now “completely free from government’s interference.”
“But we have a very low quality – quality of civil society development and quality of media development,” Garibashvili said.
“Level of media freedom is quite high… but if the quality is not improved, there will be no result – low quality media sources will continue biased [reporting], lies and deliberate misleading of people and they will not help the country, the state to develop,” the PM said.
He said that when one of the television stations, which he did not specify, was making “bad reportage”, some others were following suit and making even “worse reportage” on the same topic because “they think that if they make balanced and objective reportage they will be accused of lobbying the government.” “That’s absurd,” he said.
“I always try to refrain from openly criticizing media outlets, but we should not refrain – like Prime Minister, President or Parliament, everyone else makes mistakes and we should point at those mistakes. They have the right to make mistake, but we also have the right to point at those mistakes, when they are not objective, when they deliberately make mistakes and deliberately mislead people – that’s very bad. Much depends on them [media outlets], they have a huge responsibility. I regret very much that they often do not realize this responsibility, they do not realize that their reports and stories affect people, business climate, perception of each and every citizen. If we artificially create a sense of instability or insecurity – it means that we are accomplices in negative processes in the state; in other worlds, to some extent we fight against the state and we do not want to strengthen the state,” Garibashvili said.
“If they are sincere, let them say sincerely ‘you made a mistake’ and I will accept it, but when I know that we made no mistake and when I know that we did a right thing, then I will not accept criticism from them,” he said.