Parliament Speaker rejects media group’s criticism of comments on reporter

Papuashvili claimed the journalist’s allegations of the authorities having ignored a swelling of a river in the locality had been “proved false”. Photo: Parliament of Georgia, 20 Mar 2024 - 14:19, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili on Wednesday rejected the Georgian Media Advocacy Coalition’s statement that said five European organisations had commented on the lawmaker’s “discrediting” remarks towards Gela Mtivlishvili, a Georgian journalist, following the deadly Shovi resort landslide in the west of the country last year.

Papuashvili was responding to the Coalition’s claim that said the Parliament Speaker’s critical comments on the reporter’s coverage of the causes of the landslide and subsequent responsibility of the Government had followed a “broader wave of smear campaigns against independent media in Georgia”.

My attitude towards the reporting about the Shovi tragedy is well known. In several statements, I indicated that Mtivlishvili’s coverage of the tragic natural disaster in Shovi last August contained unverified information, which raised doubts about his truthfulness and professionalism”, Papuashvili said in a social media message.

“Consequently, an independent Swiss organisation, which has recently investigated the disaster, agreed with the State Environmental Agency’s primary conclusion [on causes], thus ascertaining that Mtivlishvili’s allegations were, indeed, misleading”, he continued.  

Papuashvili claimed the journalist’s allegations of the authorities having ignored a swelling of a river in the locality had been “proved false”.

He alleged that the reason for the tragedy was woodcutting, which turned out equally untrue; he claimed that a protective construction would contain the landslide, which proved to be a lie; and, finally, he insisted that an early warning system would predict the disaster. However, again and again, the impartial experts said the opposite: no such system would have been able to forewarn such a landslide, with enough time to react”, the Speaker noted.

The chief Georgian legislator stressed Georgia was a “safe country for journalists”, but pointed out this “should not mean they are free to spread disinformation”.

He also said criticism of journalists “has to be accepted as part of normal debate within a democratic society”, and added “overzealous” foreign partners “seem to be so anxious to expose violations of press freedom that they take every criticism of the media, even if justified, as a public discrediting of a particular journalist or a media outlet [by officials]”.

Papuashvili further said organisations interested in press freedom “should be inquisitive about the professionalism of their colleagues so as not to discredit the profession”, and added “loyalty to truth is what distinguishes journalism from propaganda”.