Decision - GYLA v Natia Songhulashvili

განმცხადებელი : GYLA;
მოპასუხე : Natia Songhulashvili;
დარღვეული პრინციპები : 1 პრინციპი; 3 პრინციპი; 5 პრინციპი; 11 პრინციპი;
29 May 2019

Case N 272

Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) v Natia Songhulashvili

Chairperson of the Board: Nana Biganishvili

Members of the Board: Giorgi Mgeladze, Kamila Mamedova, Lika Zakashvili, Laura Gogoladze, and Gela Mtivlishvili.

The applicant: Georgian Young Lawyers' Association [GYLA]

The respondent: Natia Songhulashvili

Descriptive part

The Board of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics was approached by Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) who believed that the Broadcasting Company “Imedi" violated the Principles 1, 3, 5 and 11 of the Charter with the news report entitled “47 pages are dedicated to Georgia in the report of the US Department of State” broadcast through "Qronika" at 20:00, on 14 March 2019. The author of the news story and the respondent is the journalist - Natia Songhulashvili.

The case hearing was attended by the applicant's representative. The respondent journalist neither attended the hearing nor submitted any statement.

Motivation part

According to the First Principle of the Charter, "The journalist should respect the truth and the right of the public to accurate information". As noted above, the controversial news story refers to the report of the US Department of State (DOS) on the situation of human rights in Georgia. According to the journalist, the report was mainly based on the information provided by NGOs and the Public Defender and the report indicated that torture and inhuman treatment remained a challenge in penitentiary facilities.

In the news report, the journalist says: "The third sector cannot recall any specific cases [cases of torture and inhuman treatment in penitentiary facilities] and they say that torture and inhuman treatment is not a systemic problem." The statement is followed by a cut-up interview with Sulkhan Saladze, the Chairperson of GYLA. Logically, the journalist is asking him about the specific facts of torture and inhuman treatment in the penitentiary facilities, to which Sulkhan Saladze responds: "I do not know the details [...], our lawyer Nona Kurdovanidze is working on the project. You can get detailed information on the number of the cases in total from Nona."

The journalist points out that the report, including in the part of the judiciary system, refers to the information provided by NGOs. The same is reiterated by Giorgi Mikautadze, the member of the judiciary and the member of the High Council of Justice, who stresses the partiality and bias of the organizations. The same argument is developed by another respondent, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Davit Zalkaliani.

Based on the above mentioned, TV viewers learned the following:

  1. The report of the US Department of State is critical focusing on the cases of torture and inhuman treatment in the penitentiary facility and that the court is managed by the so-called “clan".
  2. The DOS report is based on the information provided by NGOs.
  3. NGOs [particularly GYLA] do not have accurate information about their own reports, and “the third sector cannot recollect specific cases,” which renders doubtful the accuracy of the reports the DOS document is referring to.
The Board of the Charter established that the journalist was familiar with the DOS report, as she referred to some facts provided therein. On account of the foregoing, the journalist violated the First Principle of the Charter, as:

  1. The report of the US Department of State explicitly refers to the specific facts of torture and inhuman treatment, however, the journalist still claims that the authors "cannot recall" the cases.
  2. Sulkhan Saladze in the conversation with the journalist mentions the person [Nona Kurdovanidze] who can provide the information about the specific cases, but the journalist does not contact with Nona Kurdovanidze, and there are no traces of the journalist’s attempt to obtain information on the specific cases of torture. Instead, the journalist still declares that the authors of the report "cannot recall specific facts."
  3. The journalist does not try to verify the facts even though she knows the person who may serve as the source. She does not point out that the report of the US Department of State specifies concrete facts, thus providing viewers with the unilateral, unbalanced and misleading information.
According to the 3rd Principle of the Charter, "The journalist should provide information based only on the facts the source of which is confirmed; the journalist should not hide important facts, should not falsify documents and information." The applicant considers that the 3rd Principle was violated in the part of concealing facts.

When reviewing the 1st principle of the Charter, it was established that:

  1. 1. The journalist was familiar with the DOS report.
  2. The main line of the TV report was the argument that the specific cases of the torture and inhuman treatment mentioned in the report were impossible to confirm.
  3. The report of the US Department of State indicated specific facts of torture and inhuman treatment.

Based on the foregoing, the journalist should not have concealed from the viewers the information that the DOS report included the data about specific facts. Thus, the Board believes that the 3rd Principle of the Charter in the part of concealing facts has been violated. The 5th Principle of the Charter states that "Media shall be obliged to correct already published information which misleads the public". The applicant presented to the Board’s attention the evidence corroborating that he had addressed the self-regulatory body of TV Company Imedi regarding the inaccurate information, i.e. the TV Company was aware of the applicant's opinion regarding the dissemination of incorrect information. Nevertheless, the information has not been corrected even as of the date of the case hearing, and since the violation of the First Principle of the Charter [dissemination of inaccurate information] has been established, it means that the Fifth Principle has been breached as well.

According to the 11th Principle of the Charter, "The journalist must consider the following action as a gross professional offence: the deliberate distortion of facts". The Board deemed the principle violated due to the following aspects:

  1. In the news story, the journalist declares that the reports prepared by GYLA may not be credible and emphasizes that they do not even remember the facts, even though the specific cases are indicated in the report of the US Department of State, which the journalist reviewed beforehand.
  2. The journalist did not try to obtain the information from the respondent [Nona Kurdovanidze] referred to as a relevant respondent.
  3. Imedi TV is characterized by the practice discrediting the non-government sector, which is of campaign nature:
3.1. In the case of "Levan Natroshvili v. Anuki Gumberidze, Levan Javakhishvili and Teona Gegelia," the Board of the Charter found that the Imedi news story "the third sector confessed that their statement regarding fake IDs was not trustworthy" spread false and manipulative information against the non-governmental organization Transparency International Georgia and its representative.
3.2. On 02 May 2019, TV Company Imedi prepared a news report - "GYLA's interim report raises doubts over the qualification of the organization's lawyers", where GYLA and their activities were criticized and assessed by manipulating religious feelings of the population. 

4. According to the Board of the Charter, the news stories clearly show that TV Company Imedi is holding pro-government editorial policy. Imedi TV has been numerously noticed of conducting the information campaign supporting the government and the main news editions of Imedi are often voicing the well-organized and planned narration of the government. This largely contributes to the "defamation" of “specific” individuals or organizations, which has been confirmed by media monitoring reports. The above-discussed issue is a clear example of the editorial policy aimed at mitigating the annual report of the most important partner for the country, the US Department of State, as the attempt to hide in the news story the details indicated in the report is obvious.

The Board, therefore, believes that the prior intent of the controversial content and the violation of the 11th Principle are evident. The ethical misconduct in the news story was not accidental and served to convey the specific, distorted message to the audience.

Resolution Part:

Based on the above, it has been resolved that:

1. Natia Songhulashvili violated the Principles 1, 3, 5 and 11 of the Charter.