For the past two weeks the proposed broadcasting code of conduct has been savaged from the left and the right, and the mauling it has received-even from the loyal cadres of Rustavi2-has led to government second thoughts about the document.
The code was developed by the Liberty Institute, an influential NGO whose alumni rose to prominent positions in the government following the Rose Revolution, and is a (somewhat too) detailed set of guidelines concerning how journalists should go about their work. It covers things like asking people's permission to film them, verifying information, and protecting privacy. In addition, it also covers issues for broadcasters themselves, such as prohibiting pornographic material and religious propaganda.
The most contentious aspect of the code is that it is much more than a mere set of guidelines to which broadcasters will be held accountable, it will carry legal force, and broadcasters or journalists who fall foul of any of its various provisions will be legally responsible. Opposition MPs, as well as the directors of Imedi TV and Kavkazkia expressed their concerns that the code would be an instrument the government would be able to use to silence criticism.
The code itself was meant to be discussed in parliament and be adopted by December 31 this year, however the hullabaloo that surrounds this document has led to influential MP Giga Bokeria-himself an old Liberty Institute hand-to call for the parliament to postpone discussion until April next year.
The fact that the code is in crisis is demonstrated by the diversity of its opponents. Inevitably, the opposition are concerned that their voices of dissent will not be heard, broadcasters worry about editorial independence and government interference in what should be the free media, and some civil-society activists object to the legal force the code will carry. However, these nay sayers have found support from a somewhat unexpected quarter: the Georgian Orthodox Church.
To the Church, as well as to church affiliated organisations such as the Union of Orthodox Parents, the code is both too liberal and too restrictive. Article 88.1 of the code stipulates that "a broadcaster must not support popularization of any religious confession or other form of religious expression", the Church hold that that this will prevent them from broadcasting TV or radio, or airing big religious festivals like Easter. The Church argues that this article is nothing short of unconstitutional, as it restricts freedom of expression. Of course, there is a large difference between running religious programming and 'supporting' or 'popularising' areligious confession, but the code is rather vague as to exactly what counts as proseletysing. Having said this, in light of recent statements from the Church regarding the dissemination of Jehovah's Witness literature in Georgian prisons, were proseletysing by all denominations to be allowed under the code, the Church's reaction could have been all the louder.
The other objection the Church has to the code comes from the opposite direction. While the code does prohibit obscene and pornographic material (something which is surely in the eye of the beholder, as anyone who has watched Geobari will attest to) it does allow for nudity, bad language and scenes of a violent or sexual nature-including scenes depicting homosexuality. Both the Church and the Union of Orthodox Parents have labelled the code "immoral" for allowing this, which surely undermines their freedom of expression argument when it comes to article 88.1.
This code has pleased nobody. Neither the government, broadcasters, the opposition or the church are happy with it, and we can only hope that the revised document to be discussed in April really will "safeguard Georgian media development" rather than turn into another fiasco.
Permanent link to this publication:
LUnited States LWorld Y G