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TI Georgia Protests Against Closure of Gov’t Sessions for Media

By Tea Mariamidze
Tuesday, August 28
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia), one of the leading NGOs in the country, has protested against the closure of the government sessions for journalists.

The NGO says that Georgia’s national government and the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara have established a “flawed practice” which prevents the media from attending government sessions.

“This imposes significant restrictions on the work of journalists aimed at obtaining information and controlling the authorities and is a backslide regarding the openness and accountability of the government,” TI Georgia says.

The NGO says that Tornike Rizhvadze, the new head of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, closed the very first session for journalists.

“Only camera operators were allowed to record the first 10 minutes of the session. According to the local media, over the past several years, no chairperson has restricted journalists’ right to attend government sessions. Rizhvadze had said that the first part of the session would be open but had not specified how long the first part would last and whether journalists other than camera operators would be allowed to attend the session,” TI Georgia says.

The NGO claims that this flawed practice had already been established by the Government of Georgia, whose sessions are closed.

“ In early 2016, the government restricted the openness even further, banning journalists from the 12th floor where the government sessions are held. Media representatives were to wait for the government members on the 3rd floor, at the media center. Camera operators could record the sessions for several minutes at the start, which mainly involved recording the prime minister’s speech and some video footage,” TI Georgia says.

The NGO believes that the practice further complicated journalists’ communication with the government members.

“In 2016, several media outlets and 274 journalists who had signed the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, addressed the prime minister in an open letter, expressing their dissatisfaction about the restrictions imposed on the work of the media.

“After the appointment of the new prime minister, Mamuka Bakhtadze, the rule has changed slightly: the sessions remain closed, but journalists are brought to the 12th floor, the prime minister makes a statement before entering the session and then journalists, again, wait for the government members on the 3rd floor. Camera operators are no longer attending the sessions and the press office supplies journalists with video footage,” TI says.

TI Georgia says that to ensure openness and accountability of the government, it is important that the government make its sessions open for the media and close them only in exceptional cases. The precedent of closing government sessions could establish lousy practice and encourage the lack of transparency among local governments as well which, to a certain extent, is already happening, the NGO believes.