The press freedom situation has deteriorated as a result of the fighting between Georgia and Russia, with many cases of journalists being obstructed and the Georgian population being denied its right to news and information, Reporters Without Borders said today.
“We condemn the press freedom violations that are continuing near the war zone,” Reporters Without Borders said. “All parties must ensure that journalists are able to operate in the best manner possible.”
A TV crew working for the Polish public television service Polska TV and their Georgian driver were arrested by members of an Ossetian militia when they tried to enter South Ossetia from Georgia without adequate accreditation on 8 September. After being handed over to the Russian army, they were released the next day and their equipment was returned to them.
Cameraman Georgi Ramishvili of the Georgian TV station Rustavi 2 was killed by a stray bullet while doing a report on a Georgian army base near Shavnabada (30 km south of Tbilisi) on 6 September, Rustavi 2 and another Georgian TV station, Imedi, reported. The authorities did not comment on his death.
A reporter for the Georgian human rights website Humanrights.ge, Saba Tsitsikashvili, was physically attacked while covering a Stop Russia demonstration in Gori on 1 September. He told journalists that the city's governor and deputy went up to him and slapped him, telling him that it would be “like that every day from now on.” The deputy governor had insulted Tsitsikashvili on 24 August, several days after he wrote about inadequacies in the humanitarian aid being provided by the Georgian authorities.
Russian soldiers tried to confiscate a Rustavi 2 TV crew's equipment near the western city of Zugdidi on 7 September and then, after getting orders to arrest the crew, began leading them at gunpoint towards their base. They were finally released after United Nations observers intervened and managed to defuse the tension.
Access to news and information continues to be very limited in Georgia. Russian cable TV stations and websites with addresses ending in .ru have been inaccessible since the outbreak of the fighting on 8 August. Temur Yakobashvili, the minister for reintegration, publicly claimed responsibility for blocking Russian TV broadcasts in Georgia.
“We call on the Georgian authorities to restore access to all news outlets, including Russian ones,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Almost all of the Georgian TV stations support President Mikhail Saakashvili and the only opposition station, Kavkasia, is having difficulty broadcasting. Transmission of its daily programme “Spektr” was cut short on 1 September as guest political analysts were criticising the Georgian position, pointing out that the country had lost 20 per cent of its territory and there was “no reason to rejoice.”
The official explanation for the loss of signal was a technical problem with a transmitter, but Kavkasia director Nino Jangirashvili told journalists: “I have serious doubts about this version.”
One of Georgia's most popular discussion websites, Forum.ge, was briefly closed by the authorities. When it reopened, site administrators posted recommendations asking users to make every effort to avoid another closure by refraining from comments “harming the interests of the state” or “liable to lead to a split in the country.” The site's political discussion sections were “briefly closed” again on 3 September.