Below is a round-up of international reactions on November 6 to a court order replacing top management in Rustavi 2 TV in ongoing ownership dispute over the broadcaster, which has been condemned by opposition parties, Public Defender’s Office, civil society groups and activists in Georgia.
Joint Statement by the U.S. Embassy; EU Delegation and Heads of Mission of the EU Member States in Georgia:
The Delegation of the European Union, in agreement with the Heads of Mission of the EU Member States in Georgia, and the Embassy of the United States of America express our concern related to the appointment of a new management to the Rustavi 2 TV company.
In light of the recent interim decision of the Constitutional Court and considering that the substantial judgment of the first instance court in the Rustavi 2 case does not envisage immediate enforcement, the preventive measures adopted on 5 November raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary and the actual degree of freedom of the media in Georgia.
As our respective Missions have publicly stated many times, freedom of media and independence of the judiciary are essential foundations of a democracy, and diverse opinions should be encouraged in democratic societies. We call on all political actors to refrain from any step or statement that could prevent the Georgian judiciary from ruling dispassionately on this case.
The government and judicial institutions need to uphold the principles of media freedom and political pluralism that are an integral part of Georgia’s declared aspirations. We will continue to monitor developments closely and raise concerns with all relevant parties as appropriate.
Statement of the Freedom House
The appointment of new management at Rustavi 2 ignores orders by the Constitutional Court and undermines democracy in Georgia. The government is breaking the promise it made to voters, which was to uphold higher standards than its predecessor in protecting the rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy, including freedom of the press. We urge the Georgian government to end its interference in the media.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly:
The Embassy is deeply concerned about developments late Thursday night related to Rustavi 2 management and ownership. Attempts to change the management of the station, in advance of the appeal process, have profound political implications. In a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced. We are committed to supporting Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We call on the government to uphold the principles of media freedom and political pluralism that are an integral part of those aspirations. At the same time, we urge all sides to refrain from violence and dedicate themselves to a peaceful resolution of the situation through dialogue.
EU Ambassador Janos Herman’s remarks in an interview with Maestro TV:
We understand that Rustavi 2 case, as it progresses, has important political implications and has implications firstly for the respect of media pluralism, and I will say also that it has implications for the general political image of the country. Therefore we follow these events very carefully.
Statement of the Ambassadorial Working Group, chaired by the UN office in Tbilisi
The Ambassadorial Working Group would like to express concern about recent developments related to the Georgian media in general and to the case of Rustavi-2 TV As Georgia has committed itself to strengthening the respect for democratic principles of the rule of law and good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including media freedom, as well as to reinforce independence and professionalism of the media, we are confident that the appropriate environment will be ensured by the state.
The Ambassadorial Working Group calls for a peaceful dialogue in resolving the ongoing Rustavi-2 ownership dispute to ensure the adherence to a fair legal process that is free from any political influence. We affirm the importance of upholding the democratic standards of media freedom and political pluralism in line with Georgia’s constitution and international commitments.
Statement of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović:
Editorial decisions should be made in news rooms, not court rooms. Attempts by the courts to unduly influence an editorial policy of a media outlet are nothing short of the abuse of the rule of law and democratic foundations in a society. I call on the judiciary to fully respect the right of Rustavi 2 to editorial independence.
Co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia:
This decision [by court to appoint temporary managers] in effect allows for a change of editorial policy at Rustavi 2, while the appeals process is on-going. This unduly impacts the pluralism of the media environment in Georgia. While we do not wish to pass judgment on the merits of the ownership dispute, we have always stressed that pluralism in Georgia’s media environment should be safeguarded.
Moreover, this decision by the Tbilisi court seems to contradict, at least in spirit, the decision by the Constitutional Court to suspend immediate enforcement of court verdicts in civilian cases while the appeals process is going on. We are deeply concerned by the implications of this decision, and the questions that are raised about the judicial process as a result of it.
President of the European People’s Party Joseph Daul:
Georgia’s government has once again proved the country is sliding into a path of authoritarianism. There is no democracy when the freedom of media is curtailed and TV stations are illegally taken over. An independent and pluralistic media is a fundamental European right that is indispensable in a transparent and free society. Editorial independence not only serves as the guarantor of freedom of expression, but also keeps governments accountable. The previous ruling of the Constitutional Court must be respected. Selective justice serving the interests of the government challenges the future of Georgia and the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. Political competition and providing impartial information must be ensured even more before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2016.