Decision - Giorgi Meladze vs. Irakli Chikhladze and Tamar Gogesashvili

Applicant : Giorgi Meladze;
Respondent : Irakli Chikhladze and Tamar Gogesashvili;
Violated Principle : principle1; principle10;
Head of Council: Nana Biganishvili

Council Members: Giorgi Suladze, Gela Mtivlishvili, Kamila Mamedova, Lika Zakashvili, Giorgi Mgeladze, Irma Zoidze

Descriptive Part

Giorgi Meladze applied to Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics. He thought that material aired on Imedi TV, in the show “Irakli Chikladze’s Imedi’s Week”, about murder in Khada gorge, violated Charter principles 1 and 10. Host/author of the show Irakli Chikhladze and the author of the disputed material Tamar Gogesashvili were designated as respondents.

Applicant attended the hearing. Respondent journalists did not attend the hearing or provide counterclaim.

Motivation Part

According to the Charter principle 1 – Journalist must respect truth and society’s right to get precise information. As was mentioned above, the material was about murder of two US citizens and their child in Khada gorge. During the preparation for the show, one of the accused was a shepherd – Malkhaz Kobauri, who asked for jury trial. Of course such cases deserve objective public interest, but in this situation, Council underlines two factors: 1. the way that journalist delivered news to the audience; 2. the fact that jury was deciding the case outcome.

The material follows the agenda of prosecutor’s office – as is evident, prosecutor provided the journalist with all evidence that would have been presented in the court [DNA samples, photos, witness testimonies, possible weapon, investigation experimental and other expertise samples]. Moreover, big part of the material is dedicated to the interview with prosecutor’s office representative, who talks about facts in a declarative manner. The material is similar to the prosecutor’s testimony in the court, which is given a semblance of journalistic product. There is no attempt to verify prosecutor’s version, evidence from the journalist. She delivers their opinion as proven facts. Material shows an interview with a lawyer of Malkhaz Kobauri, who comments on one of the evidence of the prosecution and questions it, but the opinions of parties are not equally well presented.

The material does not show whether journalist herself has questions to the investigation and their evidences. She does not ask clarifying and critical questions to the prosecution’s representative in an interview. According to the criminal code principles “every doubt is resolved to the benefit of the accused” which underlines the fact that in a criminal case government has more responsibility and obligation to prove the crime. If the journalist has decided to cover such issues, journalist shares the similar responsibility. They have to showcase it with depth and details according to evidence. Journalist is obligated not only to formally provide both opinions to public, but to look at the evidence critically herself, verify them as well as possible and to not be just a mean of prosecutor’s office of forcing their view on public. In some cases, the material was not even formally balanced. For example, the host stated as a fact in an introduction the following idea: “watch the case materials which prove physical and sexual assault on Laura Smith”. The only way to prove assault is the court’s decision.

Council also underlined the situation that the journalist critically views and questions the defendant’s position: “Lawyer does not have an answer on why the society must believe them. He finds it hard to explain why did the seven people, who in his version committed the crime and murdered the family and a 4 year old child, leave the only witness, Kobauri alive, what they knew about Kobauri’s being in the gorge and why did they take him to the place, where in his version they kept Smith family. The conflict started when Kobauri was already there. The main question is why the people, who were there to kill Smith family, have only one weapon – Kobauri’s hunting gun, which apparently did not even have enough bullets on the place”. Journalist did not ask such critical questions about prosecutor’s version. Moreover, she takes care of their image in one of the moments by saying: “in the end, no matter what type of discreditation is used by the defendant, it is unimaginable, that an investigator asked shepherd to find bodies in the gorge and take the pictures to verify information”. These episodes strengthen Council’s opinion, that the journalist prepared material not as a critical viewer but tried to make audience believe that prosecutor’s opinion was correct.

At the end of the material, the text of journalist is directed towards chosen jury members: “It is hard to say, whether jury members will have these questions”. This underlines the idea, that jury members make decisions based on human emotions and not only facts. As it was mentioned above, the journalist tries to make society believe that the prosecution is right. Jury members are part of this society; therefore the material is directed towards them too to create preconceptions in them before the case hearing, which is not ethical journalism.

According to the 10th principle of Charter – Journalist must respect privacy and must not violate it if there is no public interest. In the material above, the details of probable sexual assault on Laura Smith are publicized. The prosecutor describes in detail how the body looked, the situation [possible forms of sexual violence and the evidence] which proves the fact of sexual assault. Charter Council refrains from providing details in this decision not to support their dissemination. Council decided that there was no objective public interest to these details and the journalist was not obligated to publicize them. Therefore, 10th principle of Charter was violated.

Resolution Part

According to information provided above:

1. Irakli Chikhladze and Tamar Gogesashvili violated Charter principles 1 and 10.