Jeanne CAVELIER: "Georgia is moving further and further away from satisfactory press freedom, and therefore from democracy and EU path"

23.05.2024 (Caucasian Journal). Our guest today is Jeanne CAVELIER, head of Eastern Europe & Central Asia Desk at Reporters Without Borders (
Jeanne Cavelier
Photo: RSF/Manon Levet
Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Previously Ms. Cavelier worked for renowned French newspapers such as L’Opinion and Le Monde.

 ქართულად: Read the Georgian version here.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Dear Jeanne, welcome to the Caucasian Journal, thank you for attention to our readers. This year's Press Freedom Day was not a proud moment for Georgia. According to the fresh edition of your World Press Freedom Index, our press freedom has declined by 43 positions in three years: From the 60th position in 2021 to 103 this year. Your Index has been shedding light on press freedom since 2002. How precise is it in general, and how alarming is Georgia’s decline, compared to other countries?

Jeanne CAVELIER: Georgia is moving further and further away from a satisfactory press freedom environment, and therefore from democracy and its path of the EU. It is now ranked 103rd out of 180 countries, and changed categories in our last edition, moving from a “problematic” situation for press freedom to a “difficult” one. The trend is worrying: No other country in the region (Caucasus, Turkey and Russia) has fallen as much as Georgia in the ranking for 10 years. RSF Index relies on a solid methodology to compare diverse situations in 180 countries and covers all areas of press freedom. It is based on an analysis of 5 indicators: political context, legal framework, economic context, socio-cultural context and security. The lowest scores of Georgia are political and economic ones. It shows a growing authoritarianism. Press freedom is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors - the political authorities. That’s a worrying trend we observe worldwide this year. The low score of Georgia for the economic context is in particular due to a lack of ownership transparency and editorial independence of the media outlets. 

The trend is worrying: No other country in the region has fallen as much as Georgia in the ranking for 10 years.

AK:  Just several months ago Georgia was granted the EU candidate status. Do you think that this new status would be helpful to overcome the recent years’ negative tendencies? Or will this status be under question?

JC: There is a clear contrast between what the representatives of the Georgian authorities say in Brussels and what they do. Unfortunately, to date, this official candidate status granted by the EU last December has not encouraged them to implement reforms to ensure a free, professional, pluralistic and independent media environment in the country, one of its requirements to become a member. They seem deaf both to the efforts of the European institutions and to the desire of the majority of the population to join the EU. The press freedom environment remains hostile for independent and opposition media. The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) Party, unofficially led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is fueling polarization, with hate speech, we see frequent verbal and physical assaults on journalists, the level of independence of the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) remains under question - among other topics. 

AK:  You are aware of the ongoing mass protests in Tbilisi against the draft bill on foreign influence. After the French Foreign Ministry criticized the police crackdown on the protesters, Georgian officials recalled that Georgia “refrained from issuing a critical statement towards France, even in light of instances where law enforcement in Paris used brutal methods against protesters, entirely incompatible with universal human rights standards.” What is your opinion on the comparison made by the Georgian officials?

JC: No state should use violence in other countries as an excuse for their own. I would advise Georgian officials to avoid making such comparisons: France is ranked 21st in the World Press Freedom Index and Georgia 103rd. Just as the police violence against journalists that remains in France should stop, so too should the Georgian officials put an end to the surge of police violence during the mass protests. And they should focus first and foremost on immediately ceasing this renewed crackdown on press freedom and implementing concrete reforms to pull the country up from its low ranking. 

The lowest scores of Georgia are political and economic ones. It shows a growing authoritarianism.

AK:  Speaking about France, the Assemblée Nationale in March passed a bill on foreign interference, to be approved by Sénat. It requires people lobbying for foreign interests to sign up to a registry, with sanctions for non-obedience. (Incidentally, among those who protested this law was the Georgian community in France, headed by Otar Zourabishvili, brother of Georgian president Salome Zourabishvili). Moreover, a similar registration in a “Transparency Register” is envisaged in the EU’s Defence of Democracy Directive, adopted last December. What’s your view on these developments, and is it correct to compare them to the Georgian case?

JC: Democracies are fragile by nature and exposed to the risk of foreign interference. But this fight, which should be led through democratic tools, can easily be used to undermine certain players in civil society, as the Georgian crisis shows. In 2020, the European Commission had Hungary condemned by the Court of Justice of the European Union following the adoption of a ‘transparency’ law in 2017. 

Contrary to the French bill still under discussion, the Georgian law, inspired by a Russian one, targets organisations that receive 20% of their resources from abroad. The French bill proposes the creation of a registry containing the list of ‘interest representatives acting on behalf of a foreign principal’ - except for diplomats - who will have to declare themselves to the Haute Autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique (HATVP). It provides a strong legal guarantee - this is an independent administrative body, responsible for promoting the probity and exemplary behaviour of public officials, established in 2014, with the legal, material and human resources necessary to carry out its missions.  (About the Defence of Democracy Directive, still under discussion, I haven't followed it, so difficult to give you an appropriate answer)

AK: I understand that RSF members have experience in working under restrictions. In the event that Georgia passes the controversial law, which would mandate media and non-profit organizations to register as foreign agents if they receive over 20% of their funding from abroad, what advice would you give to the local media community?

JC: I think that organisations should contact their local legal advisers for this kind of question.

AK: While Georgia is at the inflection point, and its press freedom index is choking, Armenia’s performance is up 6 points. Congratulations to Armenian colleagues! But how is this possible, given the most dramatic developments in the country? 

JC: In Armenia (43th), the press freedom situation is classified as “satisfactory”. Nevertheless, even if the country moves up 6 places in the ranking, its global score remains stable - so it’s not very significant. Don’t forget the ranking is a comparison between countries. It means that the situation in other countries around Armenia in the ranking worsened. During the recent protests, we observed that law enforcement targeted several journalists, which is quite worrying. Some were pushed to the ground, others hit and one journalist was even hit by a police vehicle. It’s too recent to be taken into account in the Index published on May 3rd (see our methodology on the website). 

Armenia is facing an unprecedented level of disinformation and incitement to hatred.

The ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is part of the good news, it means that we could expect lower levels of impunity for crimes committed against journalists. However, there is still room for improvement. Despite a pluralist environment, the media landscape remains polarised. The country is facing an unprecedented level of disinformation and incitement to hatred, particularly with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict and the ongoing threat of war with Azerbaijan. Certain political groups are conducting disinformation operations and attacking journalists. 

AK: Is there anything you would like to comment regarding the press freedom in Azerbaijan?  The country is at 164th place out of 180, close to Bangladesh and Belarus.

JC: Ilham Aliyev uses a cynical approach, saying recently during a press conference with Olaf Scholtz that “media freedom is ensured in Azerbaijan”. Our assessment and ranking prove the contrary. Azerbaijan posted the worst score regression in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia area (-11,94 points globally). It has seen all of its indicators fall, especially its political and safety indicators, after a renewed crackdown on the media, before and after Ilham Aliyev’s reelection. This offensive against media personnel came in the wake of a military operation that resulted in Azerbaijan gaining control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Concerned about the loss of the war’s mobilising power, Aliyev is trying to muzzle the few independent media still operating in Azerbaijan, whose reporting is liable to question his legitimacy. He already destroyed any semblance of pluralism but continues to target journalists, like those working for Toplum TV, to secure his dynasty. 

AK: If we talk about the EU’s experience in the field of press freedom, and democracy in general, what might be particularly useful for Georgia and other South Caucasus nations  now? Perhaps any relevant case studies or any reforms experiences of the newer EU member states from CEE come to your mind?

JC: South Caucasus states who would like to fight disinformation and propaganda could implement our recommendations to create a system to protect the democratic information space from authoritarian regimes, based on a reciprocity mechanism with specific guarantees and the principle of proportionality. The EU started to do it with the Digital Services Act (DSA). They could also support reliable media outlets and encourage social networks to promote reliable media, as the EU did in the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which encourages the use of Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) as a benchmark for identifying reliable news media. The JTI, initiated by RSF, is an international standard for best practices in journalism, following the ISO principle.

AK: Thank you very much!
Read the Georgian language version here.  


Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. Caucasian Journal appreciates award of Display Europe micro-grants scheme in preparation of this interview.

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