Georgia has a liberal and progressive media legislation. The Constitution of Georgia and the Law on Freedom of Speech and Expression guarantee freedom of press. The Law on Broadcasting regulates activities in the broadcast sector. The Civil Code has important provisions guaranteeing access to public files.
Article 19 of the Constitution states:
- Every individual has the right to freedom of speech, thought, conscience, religion and belief;
- The persecution of a person on the account of his/her speech, thought, religion or belief as well as the compulsion to express his/her opinion about them shall be impermissible;
- These rights may not be restricted unless the exercise of these rights infringes upon the rights of other individuals.
Article 24 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of media and information:
- Everyone has the right to freely receive and impart information, to express and impart his/her opinion orally, in writing or by in any other means;
- Mass media shall be free. Censorship shall be impermissible;
- Neither the state nor particular individuals shall have the right to monopolise mass media or means of dissemination of information;
- The exercise of the rights listed in the first and second paragraphs of this article may be restricted by law, to the extent and insofar as is necessary in a democratic society, in order to guarantee state security, territorial integrity or public safety, to prevent crime, to safeguard rights and dignity of others, to prevent the disclosure of information acknowledged as confidential, or to ensure the independence and impartiality of justice.
The new version of the Constitution, which was adopted in 2017 to enter into force in 2018, incorporates important provision guaranteeing the freedom of access to the Internet. Article 18, para 4 will read: “Everyone has the right to have access to the internet and to freely use the internet” (Matsne.gov.ge). The new edition also guarantees the independence of the Public Broadcaster from political and commercial pressures (Article 18, para 5) and the institutional and financial independence of the Georgian National Communication Commission (Article 18, para 6).
The Law on Freedom of Speech and Expression, adopted after the Rose Revolution, is the key legislation guaranteeing the free practice of journalism. The law recognises and protects the right to freedom of expression as an inherent and supreme human value. The law ensures and protects the freedom of every individual living on the territory of Georgia in addition to institutions such as newspapers and publishers and the Public Broadcaster. It protects confidentiality of sources. One of the important provisions of the law concerns court guarantees for the freedom of expression. According to Article 6 of the law, any person may apply to a court with a request, “to prevent a violation of a right guaranteed and protected under this law” or “to eradicate the consequences of the violation.” Importantly, the burden of proof lies with the initiator of the restriction and not with the journalists.
The law has decriminalised libel. It recognises distinctions between defamation of private person and of a public figure. According to the Articles 13 and 14, public figures should accept much more criticism than ordinary citizen because they are elected and have a higher responsibility to citizens. Their decisions and actions might have an influence on society. The law explicitly states that any interpretation of it should be in compliance with the Constitution of Georgia and the principles of the European Convention of Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, the law clearly considers international democratic standards of protection of freedom of expression.
The Freedom of Information Section of the General Administrative Code of 1999 guarantees access to public information that is not a state secret. The code specifies that requested information should be made available immediately, if possible, or within a maximum of ten days.
The Law on Broadcasting establishes rules for obtaining licenses and authorisations for air frequencies and sets the legal basis for the establishment of the Public Broadcaster. Amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, introduced in 2012 improved access to information through “must carry/must offer” provision obliging cable operators to carry signals of all television stations, preventing politically motivated suppression of certain channels. Another major improvement has been the requirement for broadcasters to submit detailed information about their ownership structure and financial sources.
Following the digital switchover in 2015, the requirement for licensing of TV broadcasters was dropped from the Law on Broadcasting. TV companies now require authorisation rather than licensing to enter the market. Radio stations still require licenses, as do multiplexes.
However, the Law on Broadcasting contains provisions, which are criticised by the industry. The latest amendments, introduced in December 2017, allows public broadcasters to sell advertising and forgo strict public procurement rules for equipment and content purchases. The amendments have been criticised by media watchdogs and industry alike as opening doors to non-transparent and potentially corrupt practices and unfair competition whereby the nationally-broadcasting station funded under the Georgian state budget will enter the commercial advertising market. Heads of independent TV stations argued that the Georgian Public Broadcaster will sway the advertising market away from small independent broadcasters and establish an unfair competition environment.
Georgia has been an active participant of the Open Government Partnership to guarantee better access and citizen engagement with government data. As of August 2013, the government requires its agencies to proactively publish public information on their websites and accept electronic requests for information. Another commitment under the Open Government Partnership, a unified public data website Data.gov.ge, is operational, with some agencies more active than others in providing data. Under its OGP commitments, Georgia has undertaken to introduce a new law on freedom of information to more clearly define open data and create stronger compliance mechanisms, however, the draft of the proposed law is still awaiting submission to the legislature.
Other legislation pertaining to the media include the Law on State Secret, the Law on Copyright and Adjacent Rights and the Tax Code.