Coverage of religious rituals by Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) still remains problematic. On April 12, 2015, the GPB provided live transmission of the traditional religious ritual known as Holy Fire Easter ceremony from Jerusalem during which commentators made discriminatory statements towards Armenian people ("Armenians") and the Armenian Apostolic Church containing the signs of the manipulation of religious feelings.
Commentators, invited by the channel and to whom the requirements to authored programmes defined by the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters are applied, used the Public broadcaster for preaching the advantage of the Orthodox Church in relation to other confessions and referred to Armenian Apostolic Church disparagingly.
Tamila Mgaloblishvili, head of the expedition to Jerusalem: "Armenians running the first with great pleasure ... to show worshippers that the fire came down to them ... they behave childishly, to prove that allegedly fire came down to them, typically they behave like that during the centuries.”
Kakhaber Gogotishvili, Dean: "Their childish behavior always causes a joy and a smile, actually, they are the first who bring out the fire, the fire comes down to Orthodox patriarch, but they are bringing it so happy as if they took it first”.
Inviting of the interested party as a commentator should not be used for attacking to the group, who does not participate in the program. The different approach of Armenian Apostolic Church toward the religious ritual might be the subject of public discussion, but the broadcaster is obliged to cover such issues in a balanced manner, unbiased, with participation of all parties.
We believe that broadcaster failed to keep the religious neutrality, while the Article 16 (a) of the Law on Broadcasting obliges broadcaster to observe it, according to which, "the Broadcaster shall ensure editorial independence, the fairness and impartiality of programs and guarantee that the latter are free from state, political, religious or commercial influence”.
The Code of Conduct of Public Broadcaster provides detailed regulations, which must be observed during the preparation of religious programs. We think that, in that case GPB violated the following guidelines of Article 15.4 of the Code of Conduct:
· When preparing programmes or plots on religious subjects, we should be know what can offend audiences. The programme authors and presenters, as well as journalists, should take account of opinion and peculiar features of religious groups existing in Georgia, What is acceptable for representatives of one religion or faith might be unacceptable for others.
· Contributors should not be allowed to undermine or denigrate the religious beliefs of others.
· Religious programmes must not seek to promote religious views or beliefs by stealth. They must not improperly exploit any susceptibilities of the audience.
We believe that failure of the GPB to address such violations, in turn, is much more serious problem. On April 23, 2014 the Board of Trustees of Georgian Public Broadcaster did not satisfied the complaint filed by nine NGOs and one individual concerning to the identical case, which incited hatred towards LGBT persons by cleric commentator. We reiterate the demands presented to the Georgian Public Broadcaster a year ago and call on the Board of Trustees and Monitoring Councils of Georgian Public Broadcaster to ensure taking the following measures by the management:
· In order to prevent such incidents in future, to inform invited commentators in advance about provisions of the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters and only in case of mutual agreement, take a decision to cooperate with a particular author;
· Although both codes of conduct (broadcasters' and GPB's) contain anti-discrimination provisions, in light of this case, we recommend the GPB that in order to ensure effective mechanisms for avoiding risks associated with live broadcasting, to develop more detailed regulations based on the experience of western countries, including the guidelines of live output of BBC which is a constantly updated document.
Organizations involved in the civil society platform - No to Phobia:
Media Development Foundation, MDF
Georgian Democracy Initiative, GDI
Tolerance and Diversity Institute, TDI
Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center , EMC
Georgian Young Lawyers Association, GYLA
Transparency International, TI
Georgia's Reforms Association , GRASS