According to the information published by the State Security Service of Georgia, an investigation is launched regarding the news story broadcasted by TV Channel Mtavari. In its statement, the State Security Service accuses TV Channel of disinformation and qualifies the action as a criminal offense – Sabotage.
Launching a criminal investigation regarding a news story prepared by Mtavari Channel is a severe and disproportionate measure. It constitutes a dangerous precedent of illegitimate interference into the freedom of expressions and freedom of media.
Based on the importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society any media outlet is protected from state interference, regardless of whether it is seen to spread objective, unbiased information or not. However, to-date in the era of the internet, social media and technological development, the society has become particularly vulnerable to disinformation. Today more than ever it is important to conduct educational campaigns aiming at raising the awareness of the society and providing them with relevant skills to identify disinformation. In addition, effective functioning of internal media regulation mechanisms, such as the Charter of Journalistic Ethics, studying the details of the case and taking relevant internal regulatory measures against the cases of disinformation is crucial.
We believe that a news story is protected by freedom of expression even if it is confirmed that the story does not fully reflect reality. In the opposite case, the state would be given the leverage to control free media based on the subjective assessment of the truth. No doubt states have various means and platforms of proving their own truth and disseminating information. Accordingly, the state can only take the counter-measures against disinformation which would fall within the above-mentioned scope.
In the circumstances, when the state has a demonstrated negative attitude towards the TV channel Mtavari (e.g. high-level public officials publicly boycott the TV channel) and when Georgia has repeatedly come to the forefront of the world's attention due to the abundance of disinformation and false reports of anti-Western propaganda, it is particularly disturbing when the State Security Service of Georgia qualifies the news story broadcasted by Mtavari Channel as sabotage. The action raises doubts over the selective application of repressive mechanisms.
We find that launching a criminal investigation under the article of Sabotage over the fact of broadcasting a TV story might have an irreversible chilling effect on all media outlets critical towards the government and will harm the idea of civic government monitoring.
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