Justice of Minority?
"Most comments on my blog indicate that so far there's no public demand for enhancement of rights of Journalism Ethics Charter" - said journalist Ia Antadze during the recent general meeting of journalists who had signed the Charter. Her article titled "Tell Me What You Want" was published on December 28 on her blog, the article touched upon the proposed amendments to the Charter and general public attitude and expectations towards the Charter. There were lots of comments made - they made up 20 pages or so. The opinions could be mainly divided into three categories that can be represented by the actual comments made in connection with the abovementioned article:
GERMANE: "...Any journalist and non-journalist can criticize their colleagues' articles even to the point of utter humiliation - so what do we need a special organization for?.. Organization should protect not only the freedom of opinion but it should also protect the journalists from such humiliation. That's when the "Charter" will make sense, but meanwhile the Charter is just a mouthpiece of a certain, biased anti-Mishist (anti-president) group. Nobody criticizes journalists who prepare false reports about the government. I have said once and I'd like to reiterate - if the Charter wishes to prove its impartiality then it has to bite its own tail for once".
bladi: "So they have the right to sentence people to death outside a court, label someone a criminal, call the schoolchildren "ignoramuses", call some people marginal persons, say lies, scare people to death with modeled Kronikas and the journalists don't even have the right to say that certain journalists are lying? Revealing the truth is violence and the abovementioned things are freedom and democracy? I think you're confusing things ladies and gentlemen!"
Katsi var da kudi mkhuravs: "I've thought about this thing for awhile and I have come to a conclusion. The subject of my thoughts is journalism and journalists. The way I see it, the whole journalism and its subjects are playing a Paparazzi game. Some of them are more subtle some are less so. I believe that this profession is an immoral trade such as working as a customs officer (digging into others' dirty laundry), prostitute, prison warden, spy etc. I won't go on... there may be more or less honest people even in this profession, but they can't change the whole picture, because the essence of journalism is immoral... those who want to be honest can't understand that they're in the wrong profession, they've come to a wrong place and they're just wasting their time... journalism is an immoral profession!"
I've been holding managerial positions in various media outlets for the last ten years, but every time I'm asked where I work I say I'm a journalist. For me being a journalist is the biggest responsibility together with highest professional standards. My profession implies 100% of impartiality, because a journalist is a person who is eyes and ears of the public and people. That also means there should be a connection between the journalist and audience, therefore I can't accept any argument, which puts journalistic freedom on the equal footing with irresponsibility towards the public and people.
The following definition: "mouthpiece of the anti-Mishist group" is quite revealing. First of all it means there are at least "Mishist" (pro-president) mouthpieces. The next user's comment: "so they have the right and those don't?" actually proves this point. It all means that journalism in Georgia is at minimum divided into pro-government and non-government parts, i.e. the balance that should form a natural bond between the public, people and media is upset. Notwithstanding which angle we look at this issue, the fact is that the situation needs to be improved.
The situation needs to be improved; we don't need "humiliation" or punishment of anyone. It's necessary for giving proper names to everything. But the truth is like a verdict that accompanies all the discussions about this issue. For example, Natia Akhalaia in her article titled "What's Cooking in the Charter?" published in Resonance newspaper a month prior to the general meeting of the Charter writes: "The Council of the Charter clearly tries to impose its ambitions upon all the journalists - it tries to become a kind of punishment instrument not only in a certain segment of media but in the whole media landscape"; "It seems the recent "activities" of the Council of Charter was motivated by the wish to "hunt down" and take revenge on the journalists who didn't sign the Charter".
According to media experts, the text of Journalism Ethics Charter of Georgia, which was elaborated by Georgian journalists in association with European experts and representatives of Council of Europe, is based on democratic principles. Similar organizations working in European countries express their support to the Charter, for example in December German Journalism Union passed a special resolution supporting the Georgian Charter. Therefore, it's uncertain what should a journalist be afraid of if the people and public demand that his or her work be evaluated based on the ethic norms. Taking into consideration the applications already filed to Georgian Journalism Ethics Charter one can gather that public already has such a demand.
One of the main responsibilities of media is control over the government. Such control is necessary because lack of control can pervert even the most moral government. Who must control media, - the structure that people/public grant such an important mandate, so that it's not perverted itself by such power? Of course the media should be controlled by people and public. With what mechanisms? Georgian Journalism Ethics Charter was conceived as one of such organizations. Ethical principles such as self-regulation mechanism of journalism (including reviewing the issues concerning non-member media or journalists) are valid in many democratic countries of the world, and it's a right thing to do, because those who have the right to criticize others, shouldn't be averse to self-criticism.
The Charter proved that it's not averse to criticizing its own members. The conclusion made in connection with the complaint filed by Inclusive Foundation against Alexander Elisashvili is a clear example of it. Therefore, demanding that it "first bite its own tail" is irrelevant. The main reason why the public has diverse attitude towards the Charter (and Natia Akhalaia actually talks about it in her article) is the fact that the Council of the Charter refuses to view the complaints concerning the journalists who haven't signed the Charter. The main thing here is not the fact that the Council refuses to do it, the most important thing is that the public is deprived of the mechanism with which it could express its attitude towards the media in an institutionalized manner.
Certain members of the Charter oppose amendments to the Charter. Ia Antadze offered a compromise: the Council will view the complaints against a non-member journalist if the journalist in question will agree to it. Such an intermediary measure could show the public whether the journalist realizes that he or she is violating the ethic norms. His or her refusal could be an indicator. The future meeting of the Council will show how many members agree to this compromise. This time the general meeting had no quorum as the journalists living outside Tbilisi couldn't come to the capital due to the lack of financial means.
One more issue that raises questions in connection with the Charter is the number of signers, which is not very high. A minority that wants to judge the majority - this is the main leitmotif of opponents of amendments to the Charter. So far only 180 journalists have signed the Charter, but taking into consideration the current state of our media we shouldn't expect especially high number of signers. What the Charter is doing for ethical journalism, and what it'll do in future, will not be a justice of minority if the majority of public will apply to it in search of justice.