Policy Forum – Anti-Western Disinformation in the Media: Possible Regulatory Solutions
Since the Russian Federation’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014, the public and political elite in Georgia, much like elsewhere in eastern and central Europe and even in the western nations, have been targeted by anti-western disinformation campaigns. As shown by the ACCESS-supported Media Development Foundation (MDF) research and other studies, the anti-western disinformation campaign is fueled by various internal and external sources, mostly using Russian and Georgian TV, as well as online and print media.
In order to discuss these problems, as well as to elaborate on effective methods for countering the spread of anti-western disinformation and hate speech in the Georgian Media, representatives of non-governmental organizations, media and public institutions gathered on 21st of December. The discussion was organized by EWMI ACCESS in partnership with the Information Center of NATO and EU and was completely dedicated to the following issues: What can be done to address the media aspect of the anti-western disinformation campaign in Georgia? Should the authorities introduce new regulations towards media outlets disseminating anti-western messages and hate speech? If yes, what kind of regulatory solutions can alleviate the problem without inflicting damage to the media’s freedom in Georgia and its OSCE commitments? What should the role of regulatory and self-regulatory bodies be?
The meeting participants noted that compared with Russian TV-channels and online media, Georgian media outlets have more influence on the audience and are more widely watched. Therefore, restricting transmission of Russian TV-channels will not be an effective solution to the problem – on the contrary, if the Russian TV-Channels are barred, consumption of the satellite dishes will increase (as happened in 2008 after the war with Russia when these channels were barred), that will result in decreasing the number of subscribers of the cable operator companies, as well as losing control over the information consumed by the audience. In addition, Russian TV-Channels are mainly popular in Georgia for their entertainment programs.
The meeting participants agreed that the term “propaganda” is very broad and it is difficult to determine its all methods – there are numerous platforms that can be used to disseminate anti-western disinformation and hate speech through disguised messages. Consequently, no single measure can handle all of its occurrences. Therefore, it is recommended to strengthen the broadcaster’s self-regulatory mechanisms and limit outside (state) intervention to avoid the threat to media pluralism and freedom of expression. The best way out of the current situation is strengthening media outlets with high standards and ethics. Also, providing ethnic minorities residing in Georgia with more information in their mother tongue.
Another problem, according to the discussion participants, is the execution of the law on Broadcasting. According to the law, the interested person can apply to the self-regulatory body of the broadcaster if his/her legal interests are being threatened by the broadcaster’s activities. However, the law does not clearly define the term “interested person”. Meeting attendees recommend clarifying this clause and determining the interested person as a physical or legal person, whose legal interests are directly affected by the broadcaster.
The monitoring of distribution of state funds among media outlets, conducted recently by MDF revealed that state institutions pay budget funds for the dissemination of information and posting advertisements to those media outlets, who promote hate speech and disseminate anti-western disinformation. The aforementioned monitoring report can be found at the following link –http://mediameter.ge/en/research/practice-allocating-budgetary-resources-among-media-release-information-and-advertisement . However, MDF noted, that this might not be happening for any specific reason, since state agencies might not have enough information about the media outlets. To avoid such occurrences in the future, it is recommended that the government sets up internal regulations that stipulate checking all the media outlets in advance (in terms of promotion of hate speech and spreading anti-western disinformation) and then signing cooperation agreements with them. This corresponds to the ECRI recommendation as well. Despite the fact that such media outlets (that disseminate disinformation and hate speech) have a legal right to exist; the government should not provide them with financial support.
Representatives of Transparency International-Georgia presented a package of legislative amendments which regulate broadcasting of the programs and advertisements which include a threat to the territorial integrity and constitutional order of Georgia, the independence and sovereignty of the country or the legitimization of Russian occupation. The legislative package is currently under review and being discussed by the CSOs. The finalized draft will soon be sent to members of parliament for review and analysis. As TI-Georgia representatives stated, by passing such law the Government of Georgia will make a clear statement that it recognizes the danger of anti-western disinformation for the security of the country and has relevant leverages to counter the threat.
Countering Anti-Western disinformation is one of the key directions of EWMI ACCESS. For this purpose ACCESS is closely cooperating with non-governmental and media organizations through grant-giving, organizing forum-discussions and awareness-raising meetings in the regions. ACCESS will submit the recommendations expressed at the forum to relevant decision-makers and together will follow-up on this with the participant organizations.