HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA


THE INDEPENDENT SOCIETY "HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA" Monthly bulletin # 4 / 2000

HUMAN RIGHTS INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTATION CENTER – HUMAN RIGHTS LIBRARY



All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
SPECIAL ISSUE
Elections in Georgia
 
 
 

Monitoring was conducted using qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis. Quantitative analysis measured the amount of time and space devoted to political candidates on five television channels (State 1 and 2, Rustavi 2, Iberia, Ajara), three radio stations (State 1, Audienstia, Fortuna) and ten newspapers (Kviris Palitra, Alia, Rezonansi, Axali Taoba, Asaval Dasavali, Sakartvelos Respublika, Droni, 7 Dge, Svobodnaya Gruzia, Ajara). The Tbilisi-based company Georgian Opinion Research Business International (GORBI) carried out the quantitative analysis under EIM supervision. The EIM team consists of the following members:
 


Summary

Coverage of the campaign in the broadcast media was dominated by Eduard Shevardnadze, who received around two-thirds of the time and space devoted to the candidates on television, radio and newspapers monitored. There was a clear bias in favour of the incumbent in terms of time allocated, tone and range of coverage. State TV and Radio company in particular failed to live up to up to the standards set for its coverage dictated by Georgian law and international agreements (such as Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (99) 15 on media coverage of election campaigns) which Georgia is party to. The allegiance of the state media to the incumbent, the weak position of the print media and the difficulties in running commercial media companies in general, combined in this election to frustrate the ability of voters to receive a full, fair and balanced accounting of the choices available to them.

State TV 1, the only company serving the whole of the country, had a special obligation in law to provide equal coverage of all of the candidates. In fact, of all the television channels monitored, it was the most biased in favour of the incumbent, devoting 62% of its overall coverage to Shevardnadze. Of this 30% of the time was positive. In contrast, Patiashvili had 17% of overall coverage, of which 30% was critical. The only other commercial channel capable of providing a foil to biased state TV coverage was Rustavi 2, although it does not reach the whole of Georgia. The proportion of coverage devoted to the candidates was similar on Rustavi 2, which, although more objective than the state company, also provided a small amount of positive coverage of the incumbent whilst slightly criticising Patiashvili.

State Radio mirrored the behaviour of State TV, while commercial radio stations provided a much smaller proportion of coverage – although it was presented in a balanced way. Newspapers provided a much more pluralistic source of information, but their tiny circulations limited their ability to counterbalance the bias monitored in the broadcast media.

Preliminary Findings

Media coverage of the elections was dominated by Eduard Shevardnadze. For the period 17 March to 7 April he received four times as much TV coverage as the next most mentioned candidate, Jumber Patiashvili. Compared to Shevardnadze’s 43 hours of coverage during this time, coverage of the four outsiders – Tengiz Asanidze, Avtandil Joglidze, Kartlos Gharibashvili and Vazha Zhgenti – totalled together just eight hours.

State TV 1 showed far more election coverage than any other channel, devoting over 28 hours of it to Shevardnadze alone. In contrast, State TV 2 and the privately-owned Iberia showed just a few hours of election coverage in total. Only the private TV company Rustavi 2 showed a significant amount of election coverage, although even that was a quarter of the time devoted to the candidates by State 1. This is partly explained by State TV’s obligation to give free time in the amount of one hour per day to be divided amongst the candidates. However, it is significant that the only TV companies actively providing information about the elections were State TV 1 and Rustavi 2.

Apart from the positive effect of the amount of time devoted to Shevardnadze on State TV 1 in a variety of programmes on his activities, the channel was also providing favourable and positive coverage for the incumbent for approximately 30% of the time. The rest of the time devoted to Shevardnadze was delivered in a neutral tone. Jumber Patiashvili, who received just under eight hours of coverage on State TV 1, was spoken of in a critical tone for a third of that time, mainly in news programmes.

State TV also showed adverts of Shevardnadze, in contravention of the election law which forbids the State TV and Radio company to sell air time to the candidates. State TV representatives explained this as being the result of having sold time previously to advertising companies which had in turn resold the air time to Shevardnadze’s campaign team. The CEC did not react to this legal dilemma, which was also a feature of the parliamentary election campaign.

The only commercial channel with a wide enough audience to compete with state channels, Rustavi 2, devoted proportionately the same amount of coverage to the major candidates as its state rival. Shevardnadze was first with over nine hours, Patiashvili second with just under three and Abashidze third with just over one hour. The tone of coverage on Rustavi 2 was more restrained than State TV 1, nevertheless a small proportion of its coverage of Shevardnadze was assessed as being positive, while similarly around 10% of its coverage of Patiashvili was quite negative. Although bias was not overt on Rustavi 2 in the way it was on the state channel, the tone of coverage reflected that seen on State TV 1.

Radio monitoring of three channels, State 1, Fortuna and Audientsia, provided a similar picture overall to television monitoring. Shevardnadze had 63% of the coverage, compared to 21% for Patiashvili. State Radio 1 reflected the behaviour of State TV 1 by devoting approximately 17 hours of coverage in this period to Shevardnadze, a third of which was positive towards him. Patiashvili received mainly neutral coverage although around 13% was negative. Fortuna and Audientsia provided much less coverage on the candidates in general than State Radio (four hours and eight hours respectively), but were overall neutral in their coverage. The division of time between the main three candidates was also more even on the commercial channels, although the incumbent received slightly more coverage.

In all newspapers monitored taken together, Shevardnadze had 64% of the total coverage devoted to the candidates, followed by Patiashvili with 19% and Abashidze with 5%. The commercial newspapers Alia, Rezonansi, Axali Taoba and 7 Dghe provided a fairly full picture of the election campaign. They devoted more coverage to the main candidates, Shevardnadze, Patiashvili and Abashidze, but the other candidates also received mention. Axali Taoba was distinctive in that it gave almost equal coverage to Shevardnadze and Patiashvili. Droni also provided coverage of all the candidates, although coverage of Shevardnadze was noticeably favourable. Kviris Palitra, the popular weekly, mentioned only Shevardnadze and Patiashvili, devoting considerably more coverage to Shevardnadze and that in a somewhat positive light (although criticism was also present). The partially state-funded newspapers Sakartvelos Respublika and Svobodnaya Gruzia were clearly biased in favour of the incumbent, while the newspaper Ajara favoured Abashidze in both its Georgian and Russian editions. In general however, the print media provided a much more pluralistic source of information than the broadcast media. Their low circulations and precarious financial position however limited their ability to balance the effect of biased television coverage.

Political Background

The elections for the presidency in April 2000 were held on the anniversary of the 9 April 1989 events in Tbilisi when Soviet forces attacked a peaceful crowd demonstrating for independence. Two of the candidates during this campaign were intimately involved with this important event in the history of Georgian politics, Eduard Shevardnadze (then Soviet Foreign Minister) and Jumber Patiashvili (then First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party). This critical event provided a backdrop for the present campaign.  Opposition figures said that the choice of this date for the 2000 elections was made deliberately to the detriment of Patiashvili, although others pointed to the fact that the law states that the election must be held on the second Sunday of April. Although possibly coincidence, the association in the minds of the electorate of Patiashvili with this widely deplored incident most likely disadvantaged the opposition candidate.

The expected contest between the leaders of Georgia’s two largest parties, President Eduard Shevardnadze and Aslan Abashidze, failed to materialise.  Abashidze decided not to wage a nationwide campaign, remaining confined to the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara.  Abashidze’s conduct during the campaign period was limited to feeding speculation over the withdrawal of his candidature in favour of Jumber Patiashvili. In the event, he withdrew from the presidential race on the day before the election without coming out in favour of any of the other candidates.  As a result the election was effectively contested only between Shevardnadze and Patiashvili. No other candidate waged a serious campaign.

All candidates, apart from the incumbent, complained of biased media coverage on national media.  Some complained of an information blockade of their campaigns, although given the lack of campaigning activity from all but two of the candidates this is difficult to justify. Protests were lodged by direct action in the case of Jumber Patiashvili, and by written complaints to the CEC by Kartlos Gharibashvili and Avtandil Joglidze.

All candidates except for Shevardnadze and Abashidze complained of financial constraints in their ability to run a campaign.  None, apart from Shevardnadze, said they had made use of additional paid advertising, or to have been in a position to do so.

Background to the Elections

The presidential election of April 9 was preceded and largely shaped by the parliamentary elections of October 1999.  Only three parties passed the 7% threshold to gain representation in the parliament: the Citizens’ Union of Georgia with 41.8%, the bloc Union for the Democratic Revival of Georgia (hereafter Revival) with 25.2% and ‘Industry Will Save Georgia’ with 7.1%.  The election thus represented a overwhelming victory for the CUG, and thus an endorsement of its leader, President Shevardnadze.  It must be noted that the OSCE-ODIHR Observation Mission failed to qualify the election as fully free and fair, amid mutual accusations of falsification by the two main parties.  The failure of other political parties to gain representation resulted in the narrowing of the field of possible candidates for the presidential election.  This situation was compounded by the inability of parties within parliamentary blocs to field potential candidates independently, and by the decision of ‘Industry’ not to field a candidate.

Following the increasingly legislative role played by the Central Electoral Commission in the parliamentary elections, there was a fierce struggle between the two main parties prior to the presidential election over amendments to the election law and the composition of the CEC. As late as five days prior to the election the final composition of the CEC was not confirmed.  Of seventeen candidates originally nominated, seven were registered by the CEC on March 10.  Of these only two waged serious campaigns.  Two other candidates, Aslan Abashidze and Tengiz Asanidze withdrew their candidacy on the day before the election.  Abashidze’s failure to run a campaign when he has the resources to do so and last-minute withdrawal indicate that his candidature was probably mediated by other political interests.  For the duration of the campaign, Abashidze did not make use of either freely allocated or paid advertising time.  Tengiz Asanidze was prevented from conducting a presidential campaign by the refusal of the Supreme Court of Ajara to recognize his presidential pardon of October 1999.  Asanidze was not granted access to journalists, remaining imprisoned in the Ajarian Ministry of Security for the duration of the campaign.

The other candidates, Vazha Zhgenti, Avtandil Joglidze and Kartlos Gharibashvili, apart from using the allocated advertising time on Channel-1, have not made use of the media to support their campaign due to financial constraints.

Candidates, their Campaigns and Complaints of their Media Coverage
According to Avtandil Pavlinishvili, Press Secretary for the CUG, Shevardnadze’s campaign made use of all media channels, but with a strong focus on television as the only effective nationwide medium.  As head of state Shevardnadze naturally enjoyed the advantage of being extensively covered in news programming, although "to observe objectivity" Shevardnadze cancelled his weekly press briefings for the duration of the campaign.  In addition to the free allocated time given to all candidates, use was made of additional paid advertising on state TV and independent channels, and on radio. Much less emphasis was placed on press coverage; in the view of Koba Davitashvili, Shevardnadze’s representative, the state-owned newspapers Sakartvelos Respublika and Svobodnaya Gruziya are seen as government propaganda by their readers, while the press at large was seen as a less effective medium for reaching the electorate.  No complaints regarding non-objective media coverage were lodged by Shevardnadze.  When asked about their view of media coverage of Shevardnadze’s campaign in the autonomous republic of Ajara, CUG representatives replied that they could not expect party representatives living in Ajara to lodge complaints for political reasons.  They also referred to the withdrawal of the Axali Ambebi news program from the local Ajarian television channel Channel 25.  CUG representatives also contended that it was legal for state television to sell time for political advertising to presidential candidates, although this is legally ambiguous.

Jumber Patiashvili was fielded by the Revival bloc, and given the absence of an active campaign by Aslan Abashidze, was effectively the only serious opponent to Shevardnadze.  According to Patiashvili his campaign strategy was focused more on direct campaigning across the country than use of the media, to which end he campaigned in most of Georgia’s regions.  Patiashvili complained of the acquiescence of local law enforcement agencies in the deliberate disruption of his campaigning meetings, confirmed by indigenous observers from non-governmental organisations.  Patiashvili also complained of financial constraints in the organisation of his campaign, saying that he was forced to use old campaigning material from the 1999 parliamentary elections and that he was barely able to cover his campaigning travel costs.  He therefore did not have the means to make use of paid advertising.

Patiashvili had a number of specific complaints regarding both his access to the media and the coverage of his campaign.  Firstly he said that his allocated slots on Channel-1 were timed so as to coincide with Georgia’s frequent and predictable power shortages.  The timing of his slot on the last three days of the campaign, 6.10 p.m., compared to that of Shevardnadze’s at 7.10 p.m., he said, ensured a minimum number of viewers for his advert given that the evening timetable for electricity begins at around 7 p.m.  His second major complaint was the biased nature of his coverage on Channel-1.  During the coverage of his meetings, he said, Channel-1 reporters focused on groups of trouble-makers present, portraying them as his support base.  Patiashvili’s dissatisfaction with his coverage on state television resulted in a political demonstration outside the state television building and a subsequent meeting with its director, Zaza Shengelia, at which it was agreed that his campaign would be given more equal coverage.  Patiashvili did not, however, lodge official complaints with the CEC although his protest action was acknowledged by the CEC. Patiashvili elected direct protest rather than applying to the appropriate electoral institution to voice his complaint because he doubted the ability of independent media to remain objective and referred to journalists as "fulfilling state orders".

Other Complaints
Kartlos Gharibashvili complained of an information blockade on his campaign, although by his own admission his campaign was low-key.  On March 20 he lodged two complaints with the CEC. The first related to the division of his allocated time on television without his prior consent or consultation with his representative in such a way as to minimise the number of potential viewers.  His second complaint called for the CEC to observe Article 47 of the Law on Presidential Elections which dictates that all candidates compete in the presidential election on an equal basis. According to Gharibashvili, he had received no response to his complaints from the CEC.

Avtandil Joglidze also lodged an open protest with the CEC, in which he complained that he had not been given the "necessary permission" to begin using his free time on State TV until the 20 March, 10 days after the campaign officially began. He also complained about having no access to free broadcasting time on radio (candidates are not entitled to free time on radio during the presidential campaign). Joglidze complained about the timing of his free broadcasts on the same grounds as Gharibashvili. Finally, he stated that he had been denied access to a range of official buildings when trying to organise meetings.

Regulatory Framework

Article 17, point 1 of the Presidential Election Law of Georgia states that: "The presidential candidates from the moment of their registration by the Central Election Commission shall participate in the presidential election campaign on the basis of equality. They have equal rights to use the media and other means of mass communication on the whole territory of Georgia." Article 7, point 3 of the same law obliges the media to  "cover the preparation and holding of the election thoroughly". Point 5 of the same article indicates that the presidential campaign should be held in observance with Article 47 of the Law on Elections of the Parliament of Georgia. State Television was obliged to provide one hour of broadcast time per day free of charge. Article 47 of the Parliamentary Election Law obliges State TV to distribute free time equally between the parties. The article also forbids the selling of air time to candidates on State TV and Radio.

As a member of the Council of Europe, Georgia is also signatory to a Recommendation of its Council of Ministers (No.R (99) 15 "Concerning Media Coverage of Election Campaigns", adopted on 9 September 1999) which states: "No privileged treatment should be given to public authorities during [news] programmes…Special care should be taken with programmes other than news or current affairs which are not directly linked with the campaign but which may also have influence on the attitude of voters". It also recommends that the relevant authorities monitoring coverage of the elections should be given the power to intervene in order to remedy possible shortcomings.

In fact, quantitative and qualitative monitoring of State TV (particularly State 1) demonstrated a clear bias in terms of time allocated, tone and range of programming devoted to Shevardnadze. This contradicts the agreement Georgia reached with the Council of Ministers in September 1999. State TV representatives explained the advertising of Shevardnadze, illegal according to the Presidential Law of Elections of Georgia, as being the result of having sold time previously to advertising companies which had in turn resold the air time to Shevardnadze’s campaign team. Other candidates did not complain specifically about this, nor did the CEC react in any way to the legal dilemma.
Party representatives themselves had differing views over the legality of purchasing time for political advertising from state media.  In the 1999 parliamentary elections this was declared by resolution to be illegal by the CEC, although the sale of time to candidates via intermediary purchasers appears to have been deemed legal.  After the parliamentary elections the law does not appear to have been clarified.

Candidates with complaints over their coverage in the media did not see lodging complaints with the CEC as an appropriate means of addressing their complaints.  The impartiality of the CEC was met with cynicism by oppositional candidates and other indigenous observers alike.  Neither does the CEC appear to have taken an active role in monitoring violations of the presidential election law by media outlets.

Broadcast Media

Chronic electricity shortages have generally limited the reach of the broadcast media into Georgian homes. Nevertheless, electricity, although rationed and supplied at specific times during the day and night, was provided regularly during the election campaign. There are several dozen television broadcasters operating today in Georgia, although many have a localised frequency and therefore a limited audience. Figures provided by the GORBI market research agency for the period including the presidential campaign show that State TV 1 has the highest market share for the whole of the republic with 29%, followed by Rustavi 2 Network with 17% and State TV 2 with 13%. In Tbilisi however, Rustavi 2 has the highest rating, followed by State TV 1. The most popular programmes on State TV 1 and Rustavi 2 are their evening news broadcasts, while State TV 2 is most popular for its broadcasting of films.

These figures, as well as other objective analyses, indicate that State TV 1 has the broadest reach in the country, serving regions of Georgia which are not reached by commercially owned broadcasters. This places a special burden on State TV 1 as the most widely received provider of information in the country, a fact which is recognised in Georgian law and by international agreements which Georgia is party to. State TV has a particular responsibility to provide impartial and balanced coverage to the electorate, without favouring one candidate over others. This was an obligation which the company failed to live up to.

The station’s coverage was notable for its long news coverage of the Shervardnadze campaign, with the addition of special programmes on his life such as an interview with his wife and a programme focusing on his grandson. There was only limited coverage of other candidates’ campaigns.

An additional serious blemish on state TV’s coverage lay in its acceptance of campaign advertisements only supporting the incumbent and (to compound the error), their appearance in ordinary commercial slots rather than separate blocks as political advertising.

The Chairman of State TV and Radio, Zaza Shengelia, did deal effectively with two challenges to state TV’s coverage of the campaign.  Firstly, according to him, the campaign to boycott the vote presented the demand for one hour’s airtime to present their case, against the threat of a public protest outside the TV’s building.  To defuse this, he offered them the opportunity to take part in four talk-shows over the next few days.  In the last week of the campaign, Patiashvili’s supporters demonstrated outside the same building to protest about State TV coverage, which they felt was overly supportive of Shevardnadze. This was defused in a similar manner, but probably would not have arisen if that candidate had received more coverage earlier in the campaign.

Of the independent TV channels, Rustavi 2 is the most successful.  It has earned this position after facing severe difficulties – including a court-imposed closure for several months – in establishing itself after it was founded in 1996.  Now it maintains that it has a "ordinary" relationship with the authorities, although harassment of investigative reporters continues, in Tbilisi as elsewhere. The news director stated that the candidates were offered the chance to debate on Rustavi 2 but each declined. He also reported a serious incident in Gori on 5 April, when local police harassed a Rustavi 2 reporter who was reporting on difficulties encountered by Patiashvili campaign staff with local authorities. This was reported on the station’s news programmes.

The privately-owned Iberia TV has faced serious financial difficulties over the past year and as a result had a much reduced role in these elections, showing less than two hours of coverage on the candidates during the monitored period. Coverage on this channel was largely neutral. Late in the campaign, on Friday 7 April, Iberia began broadcasting election adverts for Shevardnadze in large quantities.

Television news coverage during the elections was dominated by the activities of Shevardnadze on all channels monitored with the exception of TV Ajara. Shevardnadze had 70% of the news coverage devoted to the candidates on State TV 1, compared to 17% for the next most mentioned candidate, Patiashvili. Shevardnadze had 62% of the news coverage on Rustavi 2 and 60% of the news coverage on Iberia. TV Ajara was the exception, devoting 70% of its news coverage to Aslan Abashidze. Kartlos Gharibashvili and Vazha Zhgenti registered less than one per cent of news coverage on all channels taken together, while Avtandil Joglidze failed to get any news coverage on TV at all.

Radio
The frequent lack of electricity supplies, leading to insufficiencies in TV reception, might lead one to expect that radio would play an important role in Georgian election campaigns. However, none of the main candidates paid much attention to it. All three stations monitored stated that they were objective in their coverage, but the managers of Fortuna, one of the leading private stations, admitted that (as elsewhere in the world) it was popular because it was a music channel with little talk. Its short news bulletins were taken entirely from agency reports, with no additional political analysis.

Representatives at State Radio said they felt under little pressure to support the incumbent or other candidates, which was a result, they felt, of not being taken seriously as a medium. They also relied heavily on news agencies for information on the activities of the candidates. However, the station’s coverage proved almost as one-sided as State television’s, including a "human interest" programme involving the participation of many people close to Shevardnadze. In the last week of the campaign, a three-day series on the incidents of 9 April 1989 was broadcast, which was critical of the role of Patiashvili. State Radio’s coverage was balanced to some extent by daily transmissions of foreign broadcasters whose programmes provided a broader platform for opposition candidates.

Print Media

The relatively high production costs incurred by newspapers, coupled with the low purchasing power of the population after years of economic difficulties, means circulations have fallen drastically. The largest stated print run of just over 30,000 at the popular weekly Kviris Palitra, is rather less in proportion to the circulation of one of the smaller "quality" dailies in a country like Britain, and less than one-tenth of the market leader’s circulation there. Most of the papers monitored said they had print runs of between 5,000 and 10,000.

Like the broadcasters, the papers can be divided between the two officially independent but state-supported papers (Sakartvelos Respublika in Georgian and Svobodnaya Gruzia in Russian) and the commercial ones. The former remain partly funded by the state, in Svobodnaya Gruzia’s case via the Sakinform agency which obliges it to print government publications. Both said that they do this at a loss. Svobodnaya Gruzia published Shevardnadze’s electoral programme but not those of any other candidate. The one-sidedness of the state-sponsored newspapers’ coverage is clear from the monitoring statistics.

The non-state funded press, on the other hand, showed an encouraging range in the nature of their coverage, showing a true pluralism when taken all together.  They range from the popular digest-based Kviris Palitra, which is not very political in general, to those such as Alia and Axali Taoba whose editors placed politics among their main topics and took their responsibility towards the campaign very seriously.  The range in the candidates they tended to concentrate on, and the tone of their reporting of them, is evident from the monitoring tables. In at least one case (Droni), the leaning towards the incumbent candidate is almost certainly explained by the paper’s ownership links with the governing party, CUG.

There have been numerous incidents in recent months and years of harassment of newspaper journalists, usually (but not always) in regions outside Tbilisi, and some of these were recounted to EIM monitors by the editors.  However, they cited no case where they were harassed or seriously impeded in their coverage of this election campaign.

Advertising
The question of advertising impinges on this campaign in a number of ways.  Such political advertising as there was (including posters in the streets) was nearly all in favour of Shevardnadze.  However, independent media of all sorts reported that there was very little demand for adverts from any of the candidates. Hidden advertising (the practice of paying for articles to appear in your favour or to another’s detriment) was also present to a certain degree, but in much lower quantities than during the parliamentary campaign of last year. This probably corresponds to the lack of an active political advertising campaign of any sort. The newspapers, indeed, carry very little commercial advertising in general – an important aspect of their financial difficulties.  In comparison to other media, newspapers apparently had high prices for official advertising. One page in Rezonansi, for example, which states a print-run of 7,000, costs $460, while 30 seconds on its two radio stations cost 12 lari ($6).

Media Situation in Ajara

Television coverage of the election in Ajara was provided by Channel 1, Rustavi 2 and Ajara Television (broadcast for three hours a day on the same frequency as Channel 1).  In addition to these two channels an independent channel, Channel 25, has been operating in Ajara since July 1993.  Established by a collective of four, Channel 25 is primarily an entertainment channel, which also provided news coverage.  On 14 January 2000, Channel 25 began to broadcast a three-times weekly 30-minute news programme, Axali Ambebi ("New News"), which provided critical coverage of social and political problems in Ajara.  On 19 February 2000, 75% of the shares of the organisation were sold to Mixeil Gagoshidze, Head of Communications in the Ministry of Security of Ajara.
Observers of the situation in Ajara said that in reality the owners were forced to hand over their shares. On the same day of the hand-over, Axali Ambebi was taken off the air and a staff boycott ensued, lasting about a week before fear of losing their jobs forced staff back to work. Staff were told that Axali Ambebi could be resumed on April 10. Effectively the news programme was withdrawn for the duration of the election campaign. One of the possible reasons given for the programme’s withdrawal was critical coverage of Batumi’s former mayor and MP Aslan Smirba, who has been implicated in large-scale corruption, in one of its final broadcasts. The enforced withdrawal of this programme constitutes a violation of the freedoms of expression guaranteed by the Georgian Constitution.  Two of the founder members of Channel 25, Giorgi Surmanidze and Emzar Chxartishvili have brought a case against Mixeil Gagoshidze in the Supreme Court of Ajara.

Press coverage of the election in Ajara was provided by national newspapers available in Ajara, and by local newspapers Ajara, Ajara P.S., Argo and Batumi.  The Ajara newspaper, with a circulation of 5,000, represents the most widely read of these.  Receiving 50% of its income from government sponsorship, Ajara’s editorial policy is to actively support the local government of Ajara.  The newspaper’s editor, Niaz Zosidze, pointed to the financial constraints preventing political objectivity for newspapers with limited circulation.  Zosidze indicated that his newspaper’s coverage of the election had been low-key; in contrast to the parliamentary elections of 1999, the newspaper had not been approached by any candidate for political advertising.

Ajara TV and the newspaper of the same name (published in Georgian and Russian) which can both only be received in Ajara, acted as cheerleaders for Aslan Abashidze. Ajara TV devoted 75% of its coverage of the candidates to Abashidze, although the total amount of coverage for the whole period was just eight hours, owning to the limited broadcast time afforded to the channel.
 
 
 

"HUMAN RIGHTS IN GEORGIA"         # 4,  2000
This  is monthly bulletin "Human Rights in Georgia"

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