Official interference undermines efforts undertaken to improve press freedom. In 2021, the country saw an unprecedented number of physical assaults on journalists.
The media landscape is diverse and, at the same time, heavily polarised. Television is the principal news source. Media owners often keep their hand in controlling editorial content. Hence, the Rustavi 2 opposition television network up-ended its editorial line after the company was returned to a previous owner. Regional and community radio stations are strengthening, as readership of the print media declines and the online news audience grows.
The country is undergoing a new and serious political crisis following contested legislative elections in October 2020. This environment favours sustained competition for control of television networks. Georgian law prohibits political parties from owning media, but the big networks generally defend the interests of their owners, who often have close ties to political leaders. The same tendency exists in state-owned media, which are subject to interference from the authorities, who respond to media criticism with censorship, raids and intimidation.
In the run-up to reforms that strengthened media transparency, the government made clear its aim to control independent radio stations and television networks by way of a change in the electronic communication law. Courts have tried to attack source confidentiality, although the law on freedom of expression guarantees it.
The advertising market is underdeveloped in the print and online press, which are largely financed by donors, usually from the West.
Georgian society is marked by strong social tensions on certain issues, which affect journalistic coverage. The topics include religion, LGBT rights and Russian influence. Influential social figures, such as members of the Orthodox clergy, are electronically monitored by security services, thereby violating journalists’ confidential source protection.
Verbal attacks and physical assaults on journalists are common. Aggressors include senior government officials, especially during election campaigns. A lynch mob’s sustained and brutal assault on 50 reporters during homophobic counter-demonstrations in July 2201, under the gaze of security forces, marked an unprecedented setback. The absence of transparency and of progress in investigations of the event demonstrate the impunity enjoyed by those who commit crimes against journalists.