After protests, Georgia withdraws law targeting media and NGOs – Poynter

In a move condemned across the West and sparking mass protests in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, Georgia’s parliament passed a law on March 7 that would force NGOs, civil society groups and independent media operating in the country to to register as “foreign agents”. ”

The expulsion has social and legal ramifications, and the law would give the Georgian Ministry of Justice free rein to monitor such groups.

Faced with immediate opposition from both sides – the European Union and local groups – the Georgian government withdrew the law just days after the protests began.

“In reality, the law is all about silencing civil society and the media by requiring them to register as agents of foreign influence,” said Mariam Tsitsikashvili, research associate at GRASS Georgia, a civil society group, and adding that Georgian MPs used the talk to slander all Georgian NGOs as exclusively foreign – not national – interests.

The Georgian government has previously targeted both FactCheck Georgia and Myth Detector – media organizations and verified signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network. Last year, the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream FactCheck party accused Georgia of being politically biased and foreign-funded. TV stations affiliated with the government ran it and ran several stories about the allegation over a period of several months.

The “foreign agents” suggestion also put administrative and financial pressure on NGOs and media, “which could be another way to pressure us or force us to downsize or close operations,” Tsitkashvili said.

“The news was indeed disturbing for the members of our organization,” said Tamar Kintsurashvili, executive director of the Media Development Foundation, a Georgia-based civil society organization, and editor-in-chief of Myth Detector, its fact-checking arm. “Notably, there is already an ongoing campaign in Georgia against fact-checkers, who they describe as censors who restrict the public’s freedom of speech and expression. The initiative to designate our organization as an ‘Agent of Foreign’ would put additional pressure on us.”

The bill would force organizations that derive more than 20% of their income from foreign sources to become “influence agents” – which would increase the stigma against civil society organizations – the bill would also allow the Justice Department to “search for necessary information including personal data” to verify submitted information.

“This section of the bill was particularly alarming as the law would allow anonymous sources to submit requests to investigate certain organizations,” Kintsurashvili said, adding that the vast majority of civil society organizations have decided not to register as this would accelerate “demonization.” of civil society.

When the law was withdrawn, media organizations reacted with cautious optimism.

“Although we are now really glad that the attack on the Georgian constitution and on the Georgian media and (civil society organisation) sector has been pushed back, the overall picture and the political environment remain worrying,” Tsitsikashvili said.

The group that originally wrote the bill, People’s Power, has also pushed for a fake news law, which has alarmed civil society groups.

“It could have similar if not more serious implications for Georgian statehood and democracy,” Kintsurashvili said.

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People who lost their homes in the devastating earthquake line up to receive relief supplies at a makeshift camp in the city of Iskenderun, southern Turkey, Tuesday, February 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file)

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From/for the municipality:

  • International Fact Checking Day occurs on April 2nd and is celebrated on April 3rd and 4th. Stay tuned for information on how to register for our panels, trivia and more.
  • Google and YouTube work with this International Fact Check Network distribute a $13.2 million grant to the international community of fact-checkers. “The world needs fact checks more than ever. This partnership with Google and YouTube provides financial support to global fact-checkers and is a step in the right direction,” said Baybars Örsek, former executive director of IFCN. “And while there is still work to be done, this partnership has sparked a meaningful collaboration and an important step.”
  • IFCN has awarded $450,000 in grants to organizations working to reduce the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant program provides verified fact-checking organizations with resources to identify, flag, and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages daily. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries: India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement Here.
  • Find information on how to help victims of the Turkish-Syrian earthquake Here.
  • IFCN vacancies: Program Officer and Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

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