The EU ambassador to Georgia has praised changes to the country’s broadcasting law that civil society leaders have warned are being used to stifle press freedom.
On Wednesday Ambassador Paweł Herczynski specified that the changes – which ban the use of profanity, incitement to violence and hate speech – are seen as positive developments for Georgia’s EU integration.
‘[A] A lot has been done. In my opinion more could have been done. “There are still two weeks left,” said Herczyński. He was referring to the EU Commission’s expected decision on November 8th whether to recommend Georgia’s EU candidate status.
The Georgian opposition criticized the ambassador for praising the amendments, which critics said would allow the government to further restrict media freedom in the country.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian Dream rushes through controversial amendments outlawing ‘obscenity’]
The changes would be submitted to the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) the power to punish media companies for inciting violence or intolerance based on disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, ethnicity, race, creed or financial status.
Fines were also imposed for broadcasting “obscenity,” defined as “an act that contradicts the ethical norms established in society and has no social and political, cultural, educational or scientific value.”
The GNCC has been accused in recent years of targeting media groups for criticizing the government, allegations the agency has strongly denied.
Last week, Khatia Ghoghoberidze, chairwoman of the Council of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, said OC Media that the Charter sees “a very great danger” in the changes, “particularly with a view to the 2024 parliamentary elections”.
“Obviously the Ethics Charter does not support hate speech. The Charter simply assumes that this is a matter of self-regulation and not government regulation. That is the difference. [With these amandents] “Anything can be labeled as hate speech,” she said.
When asked about the EU ambassador’s praise for the law, the EU delegation in Georgia responded OC Media that the changes were in line with EU directives “to which Georgia must adapt”.
‘[E]especially now that it is on the way to expansion – it [Georgia] “It must adapt to certain provisions and principles,” they said.
The delegation said it had heard concerns from civil society organizations and activists about the country’s independence GNCC, but the government has assured the EU Commission that it will continue to work for the independence of the GNCC.
They also noted that regulating “obscenity” was not a requirement of the relevant EU directive. “With this issue, it is definitely important to ensure that there is a dialogue with stakeholders about the application,” they said.
On Friday, Georgian Dream member and author of the controversial amendments Davit Songhulashvili said, said that the governing party was ready to make further changes to the law at the request of the European Commission.
Herczyński confuses the opposition
Several leading opposition figures criticized Herczyński’s assessment of the amendments.
Paata Manjgaladze, a deputy from Strategy Agmashenebeli, occupation doubt about the ambassador’s approval of the changes and referred to Herczyński’s earlier criticism of the appointment of pro-government figures to the High Council of Justice.
“I think it’s a joke, because the broadcasting law can’t please anyone, the tent lawnor the fact that an activist of the Georgian Dream was elected to the Judicial Council,” Manjgaladze said.
Girchi MP Aleksandre Rakviashvili said the ambassador’s statements were “open to interpretation.”
“I will communicate with European diplomats because I don’t understand what that means,” Rakviashvili said. “I put freedom of speech above any diplomat or any other government. Of course I’m interested in what the ambassador says, but I’m not going to change my position and say, “Okay, let’s limit freedom of expression because a “The diplomat said so.”
The ruling party welcomed Herczyński’s statement, the leader of the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze specification on Thursday that the ambassador had “poured cold water on” criticism of the changes.
Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili thanked the EU ambassador for recognizing the “progress in the work on the broadcasting law”.
He added that he hoped President Salome Zurabishvili would not violate the “European Union directive” and veto the changes.
“Hopefully she had a conversation with the EU ambassador on this issue and we will not see such a situation and paradox where Salome Zurabishvili vetoes the EU directive,” he said.