Despite civil society's concerns, ruling coalition approves changes to Law on Broadcasting
On 9th February 2018, Radio Free Europe reported that Georgian opera singer Paata Burchuladze was called in for questioning before a Tbilisi court on potential charges of "embezzlement and misuse of funds" by his charitable foundation - Iavnana. Burchuladze denied the allegations and declared his innocence, stating that, "It is a historic day today as today kindness is punishable and [prosecutors] are ready to interrogate a man of so many kind deeds".
During the parliamentary elections in 2016, the opera singer founded the State for the People political party to challenge the ruling coalition; however, the party did not meet the threshold to obtain seats in the parliament.
Paata Burchuladze, a prominent opera singer who challenged Georgia's ruling coalition in 2016 parliamentary elections, has been questioned by prosecutors investigating allegations of embezzlement and misuse of funds by his charitable foundation. https://t.co/mEKK6tT4eZ pic.twitter.com/GlaoRfr66O— RFE/RL (@RFERL) February 10, 2018
Georgian ultra-right social networks reportedly announced that the streets of Tbilisi would soon have a "people's patrol" led by nationalist-leaning youth who would monitor several streets in Tbilisi and prevent any assumed violation of public order by migrants. The patrols would focus on several streets where many businesses are owned by people of various nationalities. The group behind the "patrols" are also associated with xenophobic and homophobic ideologies and have pushed for tighter controls over migration. In 2017, the group organised the "Georgian March" against migrants to stir up anti-migrant and xenophobic sentiments among the public.
Over a period of several months, Georgian civil society had mobilised and campaigned around the issue of proposed reforms to the Law on Broadcasting. In February 2017, more than 70 organisations came together to declare that the amendments would “reduce openness and transparency, increase the risk of corruption, and significantly harm the advertising market". The law was initially vetoed in January 2018; however, on 21st February Georgia's parliament overruled the president's veto, thereby granting the Georgian public broadcaster "more freedom in earmarking budgetary funds, and enable it to receive additional revenues from commercial advertising". When vetoing the law, President Margvelashvili had expressed concern that the changes to the law would have a negative impact on media pluralism.
CSOs to Launch Campaign for Public Broadcaster Reform— Civil.ge (@CivilGe) February 11, 2018
- Over seventy Georgian civil society organizations and activists have joined the initiative https://t.co/JuHwfDYo5R#Georgia #Tbilisi #Georgianpublicbroadcaster #publicbroadcaster #Margvelashvili #Kvirikashvili #media
In February 2018, several civil society organisations (CSOs) called on Radio Free Europe's (RFE/RL) international management to provide more information on recent changes in the local leadership of the Radio Free Europe branch in Georgia. The organisations expressed concern over the lack of transparency related to resignations and dismissals among the media outlet's local leadership. In the statement, civil society organisations reiterated calls for the Georgian Public Broadcaster to continue broadcasting two RFE/RL programmes which are valued for their contributions to open political discourse in the country.
In vetoing amendments to Georgia's law regulating the struggling Public Broadcaster, the country's president made a call for media diversity and healthy competition. https://t.co/jOkExT2idv pic.twitter.com/YSuoiRjcaM— RFE/RL (@RFERL) January 17, 2018