Georgian Media Policy: Bad Habits Are Hard to Break

February 5, 2019

A vibrant civil society, improved legislation and an emergent generation of skilled professionals are all good news for Georgia’s media policy. But politicians and wealthy families still have the upper hand, according to a new Center for Media, Data & Society (CMDS) report.

In recent years, the legal environment for media and journalism has experienced significant improvement in Georgia. Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO, heaped praise on the country for sporting “the freest and most diverse media landscape in its region.” A smooth transition to digital broadcasting in 2015 and the signing of an agreement between Georgia and the EU led to improved regulation.

However, in practice, media policymaking and regulation remain heavily politicized following a long history of government meddling in the media, according to a new report released by the Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS) as part of its Media Influence Matrix project.

The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), the country’s main media regulator, is steadily losing credibility because of its non-transparent decision-making process and the political affiliations of its commissioners. A spate of reforms, carried out since 2014, helped bolster GNCC’s institutional capacity and improve accountability. But politicians are still exerting significant influence on GNCC: political favoritism spoils hiring practices and commissioners are in hock to political groups, according to the report, which analyzes the key trends in media regulation and policy in Georgia.

These trends are worrisome as the GNCC has no strategy on the internet at a time when the media sector is experiencing major shifts. Internet regulation is inconsistent and anti-western propaganda spreads unabated. The debate about internet regulation is thus heating up.

A few progressive and visionary influencers, including Lasha Tugushi, Nata Dzvelishvili, Zviad Koridze and Natia Kuprashvili, have risen in the Georgian media policy and regulation. But their power pales in comparison to the influence that political groups and wealthy financiers have in both policy and media operations. They include the Ivanishvili and Patarkatsishvili families, with stakes in large broadcast groups and solid connections in the political world.

A matured civil society has been increasingly effective in pushing back against political influence and growing ownership concentration. A new generation of media professionals has been snatching up top jobs in media companies and a growing number of NGOs help media become more sustainable, work to raise journalistic standards and influence media policy and journalism debates. But that is hardly sufficient to build a vibrant independent journalism sector able to compete with the country’s media behemoths, according to the report, which is the first in a series of three studies on Georgia. The two remaining reports, on Funding Journalism and Technology and Media, are slated for publication in March-April 2019.

Correction, April 3, 2019:

A previous version of this report mistakenly stated the end date of Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC) commissioners' terms in office. In addition, the description of the ownership structure of Obiektivi was based on outdated documents. Those mistakes have been corrected. We apologize.

Taking into account a letter from GNCC, we added some clarification regarding Mr Bekauri’s qualifications. We also added a note reflecting legal changes in accordance with Article 64 of the Law on Broadcasting.

CMDS is running Media Influence Matrix as part of a global research and advocacy alliance, the Media and Power Research Consortium, consisting of more than 50 organizations, including academic institutions, advocacy groups, journalist networks and NGOs. The main goal of the research project is to investigate the profound impact that rapid shifts in policy, sources of funding and technology companies are having on journalism today. Each country report consists of three studies, covering politics and policy, journalism funding and technology.

Cover photo: GMCC Chairman Kakha Bekauri, source: Facebook / GMCC