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24.06.2013 16:41

Ethical standards in Internet-media – interview with Maia Metskhvarishvili

Nata Dzvelishvili

Number of Internet publications increases in Georgian Internet-space daily although it is hard to define which of them can be considered as journalistic product and which cannot. 

Questions appear along with development of new media while there are no ready answers to them – What is the borderline between social media and media; what are the self-regulation mechanisms in Internet-media; which websites fall under ethical standards; how journalists should act according to ethical standards in the Internet; should journalists be using comments made in social networks as official comments. spoke about these and other issues with the Editor of Internet publication Netgazeti ( and former member of the Board of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics Maia Metskhvarishvili. 

მაია მეცხვარიშვილი

- New platforms appear along with Internet extension and it is often hard to determine which are the media outlets are responsible to act according to professional standards.  Where is the borderline between them? 

This is the issue of discussion and there is no unified position to it yet.  Although, for example in Germany or France websites directly linked to newspapers, TVs fall under journalistic self-regulation.  For example BBC website is of course regulated just like the TV-Company BBC itself. 

There is no standard in Georgia due to the fact that we do not have one powerful institution such as Press Appeals Commission in Britain which united 98% of media outlets and its so called jurisdiction covers all of them.  Still, when the Charter of Journalistic Ethics was created our initial goal was for journalists to take responsibility for their product not depending in which media organization they worked.  With the given logic when a website journalist signs the Charter his publication also falls under self-regulation. 

It is hard for readers to determine which is a blog, fake page or media which is responsible for information published by it.  This is the sphere that we need to speak more about and to agree on; at least those organizations that call themselves media in the Internet. 

- Where is the difference, in technical details or in content? 

Many media organizations in Georgia may look technologically poorer than certain blogs.  That is why content is important.  The main thing is for a person himself to recognize he is creating journalistic product.  Otherwise how can we distinguish social media and online publications?! 

- New media and social media are often spoken about in one context.  What is the difference between them? 

New media differs from social media by the fact that active persons may circulate misinformation in social networks without any responsibility but when I’m an Internet-media my duty is to check information and act according to number of professional standards. 

- Are there the same ethical standards for online publications and traditional media? 

Yes, but there are specific moments that distinguish Internet from printed or TV media.  Technologies allow us to instantly circulate information and instantly react if some mistake has been made.  Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics developed a recommendation after discussing one specific case – in Internet media a material must be corrected the way that old version could not be found.  It must also be clarified to readers that the article has been corrected.  The given recommendation is based on European experience. 

- Decision by the Charter can be counted a precedent as such recommendation has never existed in Georgia before…

For Georgia it really is a precedent although in many European countries materials are being corrected like that.  It would probably be better for the Charter of Journalistic Ethics to make such decisions clearer.  The Charter has made many such decisions since it was founded.  It would be good to provide the guidelines developed based on practice to its signees. 

- What is your opinion on usage of statuses of different persons as comments in journalistic materials?  Is it allowed to use such statuses freely without consent? 

This is also a disputable issue and there is no unified recommendation in the world.  They are discussing for example if Facebook is a public space.  If a consumer indicates the so called public regime when writing a status than it is possible to use it.  At the last session of the European Press Council Alliance one issue related to usage of photos taken from social networks.  Certain Press Councils do not count such action as unethical method of obtaining information.  Certain Councils have far more strict standards.  As for Georgia, I think it must be decided by editorial offices themselves; until we have a unified recommendation. 

For example Data Akhalaia’s letter circulated by Facebook – its authenticity was confirmed only by his lawyer; we published it.  I do not know if we did the right thing or not.  On one hand there is high public interest and if at least one person confirms than information should be authentic, but ethical standards say that there must be at least two sources confirming. 

As for the fact that people express their personal opinion in social networks and in 2 seconds different media outlets turn it into news seems ridiculous to me.  First of all we know that somebody may hack your account, or just use your Facebook and write something instead of you, so using such statuses as if it was an opinion of a specific person seems ridiculous to me. 

When there is possibility it is necessary for an opinion circulated in a social network to be checked whether it was really written by a specific person or not.  There is enormous information today and it is hard to define what truth is and what is lie.  Main thing is to check the information; journalism does not exist without that.  Facebook in Georgia is like a news agency; the difference is that it does not filter information and does not say what has been checked and what has been not. 

- Now we get to reliability…

Reliability is just what is requested from Internet media.  Most important is to circulate checked information and not initial notice which social networks exist for. 

- Comments are also problematic issue.  Who is responsible for insulting comments, publication or author?  Should such comments be erased and does it restrict right for expression? 

There are different approaches.  In France media declares ahead of time – I do pre-moderation; post-moderation or do not touch comments at all.  In the first two cases if a comment with insult or slander goes through than the Press Council discusses it as part of article and holds the publication responsible.  In case when media has declared it does not do moderation than it does not fall under any sanction. 

There is no unified standard in Georgia.  Only case I know that Radio Tavisupleba had pre-moderation.  This is a colossal job to do as I have seen organization in which whole armies of staff work at moderating comments section.  Financial resources of organizations like us will never be enough for that. 

The only thing we do is in emergency situations like it was on 17 May when people were insulting each other we restricted comments on the given topic. 

- You have admitted that there is no unified position on many issues; how important do you think it is for media representatives to speak about the specifics of Internet media? 

It is very important, especially in the case of us, when we are developing democratic country.  Number of population increases.  It may not be tragic until certain period what is happening now.  Sometimes you open websites and you are horrified what is going on.  In 2-3 years number of Internet-consumers will further increase and at that time we will have very bad results; so it is important to agree and unify positions now. 

A lot of issues are disputable.  Although nobody argues that information must be circulated after being checked.  We must agree on fundamental issues and the issues like restriction of comments, correction of mistakes and so on are of secondary importance. 







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