“Non-Collegial” Blog

ნატალია ავალიანი/მედია აპრილი

It is true that these words of Pastor Martin Niemöller have already been used so many times in different countries and at different times, they may sound banal, but, unfortunately, they do not lose their relevance. Therefore, I will start this letter like this:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I remember that in 2012, when the National Movement was counting the last months of its time in power, I had just arrived in Tbilisi, and I was also covering the current news. The power accumulated in the hands of one political party was mirrored on the television media – the materials aired by the national television stations often resembled each other, as now.

We saw everything during the previous government – arrest of journalists, intimidation, threats, cases of physical violence, special forces on television, etc.

Some of the journalists of that period have changed their profession, some are still fighting for free speech, and some are still working in the government media and this time serving a different party. There are those who were oppressed in those years, and today they themselves have become propagandists of the oppressors.

Before coming to power, Georgian Dream made a promise that this would not happen again, however, in the last 12 years, the government’s attitude towards the media has been getting worse and worse. At first, press conferences were held once a week in the ministries, where we could ask the minister (or at least the deputy) any question, telephone calls and questions were answered in the press office, and during the coverage of the government session, everyone could have talked to the minister, etc. Then all this gradually disappeared, the ruling team announced a boycott of the critical media, the press office employees started to hinder the journalists instead of helping them, it became difficult to get public information and now, in fact, it is impossible, the aggressive answers of the representatives of the Georgian Dream to the critical questions also increased.

Journalists with more experience than me have the experience of covering the November 7 and May 26 raids, although “my first raid” was the night of Gavrilov – when the Georgian Dream government used “special means” on Rustaveli Avenue for the first time, without any warning. Moreover, a few minutes earlier, the current Prime Minister, Mamuka Bakhtadze, said that rubber bullets and tear gas are not the signature of the Georgian dream. More than 200 people were injured that night and a couple of them lost their eyes. About 40 journalists were among the injured. However, the demonstration of force by the state did not end there – in the summer and fall of 2019, we saw special forces on Rustaveli Avenue many times, and in the fall of 2020, a small demonstration near the Election Administration of Georgia was dispersed, during which journalists were also injured.

The following year was probably one of the most difficult and tragic in the history of the Georgian media — the homophobic and violent group Alt-Info physically assaulted more than 50 journalists covering the Pride March. The crowd ransacked the offices of non-governmental organizations, including Tbilisi Pride. It was a day when a press ID would not protect you, it would make you a target. The government we pay was doing nothing to protect civilians, and the police, who had broken up protests in previous years, were now nowhere to be seen. Moreover, on the morning of July 5, the prime minister at the time, Irakli Gharibashvili, gave the green light to violence.

July 5 was like a revenge on the media. Retribution from the government — for critical questions and disobedience, and retaliation from violent groups — for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community in those days. And, of course, this was an unprecedented case of oppression, intimidation, violence against the queer community, which was supposed to further damage the community and score points for the government as a result.

A few days after July 5, Lekso Lashkarava, the operator who was beaten at the rally, died, and then, for the first time in my life, I stood in the parliament, in front of the politicians, with a protest poster. I have been to journalists’ protests, but not in the parliament, where I am used to asking questions.

This is not an easy task for a journalist – it is true that after that I had to take part in the protest in the parliament many times, but until now I “didn’t dare” to use the whistle. Ethical journalism implies that we should be critical and attentive to those in power, but, at the same time, impartial, balanced. All this makes us accustomed to being locked in a frame, from which many of us had to get out in recent years.

We had to test the Russian law by which the government restricts free media and non-governmental organizations. The law, which against our will is going to seal us with the label of “organization serving the interests of a foreign power”, has already been enacted. This means that the existence of independent media in Georgia is threatened, although we are going to fight.

Another legislative initiative of the Georgian Dream concerns the non-existent “LGBT propaganda”, which restricts the rights of queer people and imposes censorship.

For more information on hate law, check out our articles:

How an Election Campaign Built on Hate, Homophobia, and Conspiracy Theories Works

At such a critical time, you pay particular attention to your enemies and allies. People completely unknown to us have become allies, and those with whom we have worked for years have become enemies. Today, they, who are under the influence of the government, boldly claim that we are under the influence of a “foreign power”.

After all, journalists have been taught for years that there is another side to everything, and for a long time I tried to see what the “other side” was for people working in propaganda media – what was behind what they do. I thought about many different versions and in the end I came to the conclusion that none of them is a counterweight to what my “colleagues” are doing now.

Rhetorical question: Are your “colleagues” interested in what is happening on the “other side”?

Everything has long gone beyond the editorial policy and “what can I do, the producer told me to”. My “colleagues” know this very well. They can deliberately lie in the story and make people believe the truth; They can deliberately harm non-governmental organizations, because they received such an order, and not care about people who exist with the help of these non-governmental organizations, not their clients; They can work to convert people to a non-existent “LGBT propaganda” narrative without leaving a gay bar; They, the members of the LGBTQIA+ community themselves, can talk live about the dangers of the non-existent “LGBT propaganda”, when no one knows better than them that a person cannot become gay with “propaganda”; They can prepare a story filled with disinformation, Russian propaganda messages and then fly to some European city for dates, because in their own country they prevent love and increase hatred; They can watch their friends lose everything because of the Russian law and either keep quiet or at least engage in government propaganda; They can conduct an openly anti-European policy and post photos taken in Europe the next day, enjoy the benefits of the European Union, including visa-free travel.

These people cannot be my “colleagues”. Sooner or later, all evil comes to an end and this too will end, but what will they say then – where were we and what were we doing? I will proudly say where I was, and what’s more, I will protect my “colleagues” when their rights are violated. And they will surely be broken, for they are now only instruments in the hands of evil, to be thrown away as soon as they are no longer needed. Take a look at history and you’ll see for yourself.

I started the letter with a truth that has become banal and will also end it this way: “In the end, we will all remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”