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Barriers might be lifted for journalists on Election Day

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, September 16
Georgia's Parliamentary Inter-Faction group stresses that for the media the elections should be held in a more transparent environment and addressed the Central Election Commission (CEC) to lift the restrictions adopted last year for journalists. The Inter-Faction group meeting was held on September 13. Through the statement made by a new chair of the CEC, Tamar Zhvania, there are signs that the upcoming presidential elections would be easier for media outlets to work for.

Last year, former head of the CEC, Zurab Kharatishvili, enforced restrictions where journalists were allowed to go on Election Day.

After a campaign undertaken by non-governmental organizations and the media, the restrictions were eased a bit compared to the first draft.

The legislation allows video and photos to be taken at election precincts. Amendments were adopted to the Election Code after the government followed recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and prohibited video surveillance at precincts, arguing that people wouldn’t make a free choice in front of cameras.

In order to make it possible to record the situation at precincts, video and photos were allowed, and the amendment came into force in 2011. It should be noted that video and photos can be used as evidence in the courts in the case of certain violations.

However, last year, just before the parliamentary elections, the CEC unexpectedly decided to prohibit video and photography in precincts, which was allowed under the legislation in force at the time. The CEC argued that the presence of photo and video cameras may be perceived as pressure on the voters .

After a campaign led by NGOs, who were worried that without a media presence, violations could go unnoticed, the CEC made a decision to allow photo and video from a single spot at precincts, and if journalists moved away from their designated spot, they would not be able enter the precinct again.

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) has claimed that the restrictions were too strict for the media and established many barriers for journalists and observers.

The ruling party members say that the elections cannot be transparent, free and fair, when the media faces strict regulations in covering the process. The members of the group said they were unanimous about the issue and announced that the regulations should be changed or lifted.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili, a member of parliament from the Georgian Dream coalition and head of the inter-faction group, says that the goal of the coalition is to conduct a free and fair election and this cannot be achieved if the media have to work under such restrictions. The majority supports complete removal of the restrictions.

The opposition Christian-Democratic Movement believes that the restrictions might be modified and there should be a document that envisages media actions during election day at the election districts and precincts.

Newly appointed head of the CEC, Tamar Zhvania, states that she has already discussed and initiated the issue during the meeting at CEC. However, she states that the decision will be made after a serious discussion at the Central Election Commission.

“I cannot tell you if these regulations will be changed or not, or will be annulled or not. This is an issue that should be discussed and decided by the commission. We will have a closed meeting to discuss these recommendations. We will also meet media representatives to hear their position in this regard and only afterwards will a decision be made,” Zhvania said