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16.09.2011 21:14

Code of Conduct for Broadcasters VS Complaints

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

A citizen may complain against violation of the code of conduct by a broadcaster in two agencies; first is the self-regulation agency of a TV-company and the second is the Charter of Journalistic Ethics.  Still, in the first cast the category of those who can appeal is limited and the Charter Council discusses the appeals that concern the Charter signed journalists. That is why the number of complaints turned in to both agencies is very low, while violations from broadcasters are numerous.

September 15 seminar discussing "The implementation of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters of the Georgian National Commission for Communications" organized by the Council of Europe and the European Union in Courtyard Marriott Hotel was dedicated to the following topic - should the amendments be made to the code that would allow any citizen to appeal against any journalist. Representatives of the TV broadcasters, Charter of Journalistic Ethics, GNCC, Council of Europe, European Commission, NGOs and international organizations participated in the meeting.  The seminar was held in framework of the Media freedom, professionalism and support pluralism in the South Caucasus and Moldova Project.

The Code of Conduct for Broadcasters operates in Georgia since 2009; it is a normative act and includes both obligatory and recommendatory norms.  The Law on Broadcasters also is in force in Georgia and it obliges all the broadcasters to form self-regulatory bodies.  In case if a broadcaster violates any article of the Code of Conduct a citizen must complain in that body.  In case if the appellant does not agree with the decision made, he can appeal against it to the appellate body of the same broadcaster.

According to the Code only "an interested individual" may turn in an appeal to broadcasters and that individual may be "any individual who is concerned with, or has been mentioned in a program, or in a decision by the broadcaster self-regulatory body".  Lawyer of the Young Lawyers Association Tamar Kordzaia, who represented the Civil Development Institute at the seminar, proposed the further extension of the given article.  She said that it is necessary to count as an interested individual also those "who work in media sphere, or who aim at protecting media ethical standards." According to Kordzaia, when there is a clear defamation in a report then it is possible to appeal to court, but when there is an inaccuracy, or a child is being identified then one should appeal to a broadcaster self-regulatory body.

"In such cases those organizations which for example work for reporting on child issues must have the right to make complaints.  As our aim is not punishing media, we believe that the given issue must be settled in the limits of self-regulation and the extension of the norm is the best solution,"  Kordzaia said.

The given proposition resulted in various reactions from the meeting participants.  Member of the Charter of Ethics Maia Metskhvarishvili said that Kordzaia's model would not solve the problem as if media representatives are granted the right to appeal then the given possibility must be given to representatives of different social groups.

Head of the Legal Department of the National Commission for Communications Kakhi Kurashvili stressed that the GNCC is ready for starting work on making amendments to the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, but for positive decision it would be necessary to achieve a consensus with broadcasters.  "The Code has been formed as result of mutual agreement so amendments must be agreed with everyone also, as it is the act under the control and sanctions of the GNCC," Kurashvili said.

Meeting participants made the comparison with the second mechanism of self-regulation -  Charter of Journalistic Ethics - were any citizen may make a complaint, but according to the regulations the Charter is authorized to discuss only the appeals made against Charter signees.

"If we want to introduce ethical standards to media then any citizen must have the possibility to appeal against any journalist," Ia Antadze Chairman of Board of the Civil Development Institute said.  According to her, the existing data confirms that broadcasters often refuse to discuss complaints because an appellant is not "an interested party".

Representatives of broadcasters presented statistics of appeals for the first time at the given seminar.  23 complaints have been turned in to TV-Imedi self-regulatory body, ten to Rustavi-2 and six to the Public Broadcaster.  Kavkasia has received two complaints and Maestro - one.  The complaints concerned violation of business reputation, violation of the rights of juveniles and sexual minorities and inviolability of private life.  Imedi and the Public Broadcaster satisfied three complaints each and made warnings to concerned journalists.  Rustavi 2 made an agreement on one complaint and satisfied one.  Kavkasia denied both complaints.  According to the Project Manager of Maestro Nino Shervashidze the complaint turned in to the Company "was more of a recommendatory character, so the hearing has not been heard."  Imedi self-regulatory body did not discuss five complaints explaining the decision by the fact that the appellants were not "interested parties." Kavkasia did not discuss one appeal due to the same reason.  Rustavi 2 lawyer Tamta Muradashvili stressed that in many cases citizens appeal to the Company personally, so the disputes are settled informally.  According to the Executive Director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters Natia Kuprashvili, none of the 22 members of GARB have received complaints in their self-regulatory bodies.

Ia Antadze believes that the law number of complaints turned in to broadcasters confirms the fact that the mechanism of self-regulation does not work in Georgia.  Kakhi Kurashvili believes the solution to the problem would be better informing of consumers and activation of the GNCC.  "We must activate the monitoring of the work of self-regulatory mechanism in broadcasters."

At the closing of the meeting the experts from the Council of Europe, Head of the British „Salomon Whittle Ltd" Stephen Whittle and Nicosia University Assistant Professor for Communications Christophoros Christophorou shared the experience of their countries with meeting participants and gave certain recommendations.

Stephen Whittle stressed that everyone has the right to turn in a complaint to a TV Company.  "If the report does not concern a specific individual then it means that any person can be "the interested individual".  He also stressed that the main thing for the Code of Conduct is to keep the balance between editorial freedom and interests of consumers.

Christophoros Christophorou said that the category of appellants is not limited in Cyprus either.  According to him all the broadcasters are obliged to publish at their website the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters and all the information about all the complaints turned in.  The expert is confident that this increases the information availability to consumers and improves confidence in broadcasters from views.

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