Decision on the Case - Group of applicants vs. Giorgi Gvimradze and Irina Dekanoidze

Violated Principle : principle1; principle10;

December27, 2017

Case N184

Group of applicants vs. Giorgi Gvimradze and Irina Dekanoidze

Head of Council: Giorgi Mgeladze

Council members: Lika Zakashvili, Tamuna Uchidze, Gela Mtivlishvili, Maia Mumlashvili, Nino Jafiashvili

Applicant: Nino Bekishvili, Nino Sadghobelashvili, Tamta Melashvili, Zaza Koshkadze, Khatuna Tavdgiridze, Dalila Gogia, Zviad Kvaratskhelia Gvantsa Jobava, Shota Iatashvili, Nato Ingorokva, Giorgi Shonia, Nestan Nene Kvinikadze, Lasha Bughadze, Lekso Doreuli, Maiko Kudava, Giorgi Maisuradze, Masho Samadashvili, Rati Amaghlobeli, Zaal Andronikashvili, Ninia Matcharashvili, Tina Mamulashvili, Khatuna Tskhadadze, Teona Dolenjashvili, Lasha Bakradze. Respondent: Giorgi Gvimradze and Irina Dekanoidze

Descriptive Part

Group of applicants applied to the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics. They thought that the report aired in the news show “Moambe” of Public Broadcasting at 6:00 PM on 27th of December and the video material which was published on the same day on public broadcasting channel web-page violated the 1st and 10th principles of the Charter. Material published on web-page and the report was about arrest of Zviad Ratiani. Responsible person for the report in “Moambe” was considered to be the director of news and current events block on Public Broadcasting – Giorgi Gvimradze. Responsible person for the material published on web-page is the editor – Irina Dekanoidze.

Respondent journalists did not attend the hearing or provide a statement. Nino Bekishvili attended the hearing as a representative of applicant group.

Motivational Part

According to the first principle of the Charter - “A journalist has to respect the truth and public’s right to get precise information”.

Material N1 – report in “Moambe”

As was mentioned in descriptive part, material was about the fact of arrest of Zviad Ratiani. Specifically the report showed the court hearing and the video provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which partly depicted the arrest of Zviad Ratiani. From the report, audience got the following information:

  1. The judge considered the video provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as evidence.
  2. Witnesses said that Zviad Ratiani resisted law enforcement workers.
  3. Zviad Ratiani said that he was abused physically and verbally by law enforcement.
  4. Zviad Ratiani’s lawyer was against using the video provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as evidence.

In the video Zviad Ratiani uses offensive language towards law enforcement representatives. All of the above together paints a picture where the police arrested an intoxicated citizen, who insulted them, which logically should not have cause this much resonance/protest in the society. Framing the case in this context was exactly what the Ministry of Internal affairs position was and the role of media as watchdog, which has to fully and comprehensively get the information to the public was neglected. The information which caused Zviad Ratiani’s arrest to be a public interest piece was the one that public did not get from this report, specifically that:
  1. Zviad Ratiani said that he was physically and verbally abused for several hours.
  2. In the material shown in “Moambe” and in court hearing Zviad Ratiani’s lawyer said that the police was required to show the full video recording of his arrest. In the material found by the council investigation, it becomes clear that according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ratiani was stopped in context of police control. According to the Law of Georgia about Police (article 24, point 5) and the order of the Minister of Internal Affairs # MIA 3 17 00000604 of 21st of December of 2017, policeman participating in police control is obligated to fulfill every action with a video camera turned on. Therefore, if police followed the law, there should be a full video recording of stopping and arresting Ratiani, which his side wanted to make public from the beginning. Nevertheless the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not show the video in court or to public. In spite of this interesting and important detail having been mentioned in the court and the lawyer having mentioned it in the report of “Moambe”, the media did not try to recheck it and make it known to public. The easiest way of doing it would have been asking any qualified lawyer a question, whether the police participating in the police control was obligated by law to make a full recording of Ratiani’s arrest and then provide the lawyer’s response to the audience. For more precision, they could have asked (or made an attempt to ask) the Ministry of Internal Affairs whether they had the full recording of the arrest. By providing these responses to the audience, the public would have gotten more precise information.
  3. During the hearing Ratiani’s lawyer showed the documentation provided by medical facilities, which proved that Zviad Ratiani had physical injuries, which were probably the result of actions of law enforcement institution representatives. Nothing was said about this in the report.
  4. For ensuring the precision, it was necessary that the journalists of “Moambe” reported, that Zviad Ratiani was under the police control for several (approximately 3) hours, according to the information mentioned during the hearing. The material shown in the court, which was provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was several minutes long, was fragmented, edited and did not show the full picture and time of Ratiani being in police custody. Giving this additional information to the public would have made it possible to show the situation in full context and explain that the recording was shot and edited by one interested party and did not show the full picture. The published video, which only depicted Ratiani being aggressive and police being “exemplary”, made an impression that aggressive civilian insults policemen without reason, but the fragments of Ratiani’s speech hint, that his aggression was caused by actions of police. These probable actions are not shown in the video shown during hearing. Despite of the questionable circumstances mentioned above, the journalist was satisfied with short comments from several participants of hearing and Zviad Ratiani’s lawyer. The journalist, based on lawyer’s statement, says that the video recording was not unedited and it should not have been used as evidence for the case. This is not enough.
  5. A journalist, who provides us the report from the court, should describe the facts as precisely and objectively as possible. Specifically, if journalist heard in court and was sure of the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs showed several minutes of footage from the several hours of Ratiani being held in police custody, he or she should have reported it to the audience. Also the journalist should have asked critical questions to the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the court hearing. If they refused to comment, this should have been made clear to the audience too.
  6. Questions, which the journalist did not ask in the reporting: 1. why was the video not shot by the shoulder camera? 2. How legal is police’s action of taking fragmented video by phone? 3. Did the full video of incident between Ratiani and the police exist? 4. Was the video showed in court edited, fragmented? 5. Did Ratiani really have injuries as the responding party said in court and did he have a medicolegal investigation? 6. Did the evidence exist that Ratiani started the incident and not the police, etc. By asking these and other questions, the journalist could have provided more balanced story to the audience.

Journalism is not just depicting positions of parties. Audience trusts the journalists who create report from the court and observes everything that goes on in there in an objective way. In this case, the journalist mainly showed the positions of interested, biased party in the report and did not provide evidence of court in an objective way. For example, report shows the fragment of questioning a policeman, where he talks about Ratiani starting insulting police immediately after being stopped. But the journalist did not add that there was no evidence from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that this happened. The council of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics has an impression that the comments, voices, and text provided in the report, sided with the position of the Ministry of Internal Affairs made beforehand and was against Ratiani.

It is especially important for precision and respect of audience to see how public broadcasting reports about the court cases which have public interest. This responsibility is heightened by the fact that according to Organic Law of Georgia on Common Courts, article 131, Public Broadcasting channel has an exclusive permit to record court hearings. Other media are given this right only in cases when Public Broadcasting refuses to do so. Ratiani’s hearing had only one media with a camera – Public Broadcasting and it was important to provide this information to the public objectively and in an unbiased way.

According to the provided reasons, Charter Council thinks, that by providing fragmented information to public about this case, broadcasting showed disrespect to the audience’s right to get full and comprehensive information. People were not given the information about the context which would have changed and/or completed their perception and opinions about the arrest of Ratiani. Therefore, the first principle of the Charter was violated.

Material N2 – Video published on Public Broadcasting web-page

Material posted on public broadcasting channel depicted how Zviad Ratiani insulted law enforcement representatives. The material is accompanied with the following text: “First channel publishes the video, which was shown on today’s hearing and used as evidence”. “The lawyer [Zviad Ratiani’s lawyer] protested using this video as evidence”, “As the lawyer said; he does not understand what was used to record these videos”.

In this situation the same problems arise as in “Moambe” report. Specifically, in this case, people are not given facts fully about the arrest of Zviad Ratiani and after watching the video audience would have gotten incorrect information.

This video was posted on Public Broadcasting web-page without additional clarifications about the following: What technical means were used to shoot it and how legal was it shot? It did not say, that the material was edited, fragmented and did not show the interaction of Ratiani and police fully. It did not say, that this several minute long video arises many questions, because Ratiani was in police for several hours. In the end and/or in the beginning of the video it did not show the comment of Ratiani and/or his representative. It is true that his lawyer’s position was shown in different media product of the channel, but this is not enough to ensure the precision, specifically, when this video spread very quickly and in social network search engine was found as separate media product. Material was not accompanied by the argumentation of Ratiani’s side of the story which was posted on the same web-page at different time; therefore, unless someone searched that, they would not get to understand responding party position on the case. Because of everything mentioned above, Charter Council decided that Public Broadcasting responsible representative did not achieve required precision of the information delivered to the audience and violated charter principle N1.

According to Charter principle 10 “A journalist has to respect privacy and not invade personal life of a person, if there is no specific public interest provided”. Video, where intoxicated Zviad Ratiani verbally insults police, in no doubt depicts his personal life. Council does not argue that “Ratiani’s case” is not a public interest matter, but in this case, it needs to be discovered, whether there was a specific public interest about the information showed in the video, which would justify the publication. The material was about possible law violation, which was widely discussed in public, therefore, of course there was interest about the arrest, but in this case, it needs to be found out, whether there was public interest about the specifically edited video, posted by public broadcasting.

Public interest is a matter of opinion. “Interest” is not a specific person’s subjective wish to see a video showing private life of another individual, but needs to be objectively defined whether it was necessary to show public this video to deliver additional information about the arrest of Zviad Ratiani. There were unanswered questions at that point (as there are today) in public. Specifically: Who started the conflict? Did police abuse here power? How did police treat Ratiani during several hours when he was held in custody? Did they use force? Etc. These questions remained unanswered after the video was poste. Society just understood that “Drunk Ratiani swore at police”. This information was made public by Ratiani multiple times. In court he said, that he was drunk and verbally insulted police. This statement can be found in internet at multiple sources. Therefore, by making the video public, society did not get any additional information besides what Ratiani had already said and was a proven fact. Based on this, posting video did not had any objective reasons except for playing on society’s feelings and making the Ministry of Internal Affairs look seem more respectable.

It is worth mentioning, that part of the video showed Zviad Ratiani swearing at Georgian Orthodox Patriarch. In Georgia, where most of the people highly respect Patriarch, showing this video is a direct and real danger – Zviad Ratiani can be a victim of physical revenge. This is easy to prove by threatening comments in social networks about the video. Media sharing this video is highly irresponsible and provokes violence. It also does not contain any worthy information, but just discredits Zviad Ratiani’s person. Council thinks that Ratiani’s case can be an example to give general recommendations about publication of private life depicting information.

Right to privacy is a wide concept and does not have an exact definition. In the video of Zviad Ratiani there are moments which are private by any definition. For example, showing the materials, which are damaging private reputation, in this case, depicting Ratiani drunk, which as he himself said in court, was not appropriate for him. The video also showed the information about his health (specific medical condition), which is a private information, not to say anything about spreading assumed insult towards the Georgian Patriarch.

International practice in this case is for the journalists to think about what the society will gain by sharing the material. Journalists have to be sure that showing the video will benefit the society more and therefore it is worth to damage one individual. There can be two cases where private information can be made public: 1. the person agrees to show it, 2. the reason is provided in details. In case of Ratiani, Public Broadcasting did not fulfill any of these cases. There was no consideration shown for trying to do it either.

If the media still decides to make this kind of information public, there are several rules made by international practice – publication of private life depicting information needs to concern using public funds improperly, exposing an official, public welfare cases, information about environment, protecting national security, bringing important crime to light, etc. This list can be incomplete and media has to decide on its own what is appropriate. From the list above, Ratiani’s video can be only considered in application to the last one – bringing crime into light, but the arguments for why the video was necessary to be published for this, when his crime is not an important one and is administrative, would be hard to find. Even if proven guilty, his crime will not be specifically damaging to the society. Also, before publishing the video, Ratiani already “confessed” to resisting police and insulting them. Therefore, this video was not shown because it was bringing the crime into light.

General recommendation of the Council is for every media to discuss provocative and interfering contextual factors of every case they are working on, as well as whether showing the information will bring more benefits to the society than it would damage an individual. Council thinks that in any such case, media needs to explain to audience, why they chose to publish information violating the privacy. Therefore, considering everything above, Charter Council decided that in this case, 10th principle was also violated.

Resolution part

According to everything said above:

1. Giorgi Gvimradze and Irina Dekanoidze violated Charter’s 1st and 10th principles.