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Georgia: Calling on Mtavari Arkhi to improve reporting on sexual violence

Equality Now calls upon Georgian TV channel Mtavari Arkhi to adhere to human rights standards when reporting on sexual violence.

Equality Now would like to express its concern about the insensitive portrayal of a survivor of sexual violence by the TV channel Mtavari Arkhi of Georgia.  

The media have a critical role to play in promoting gender equality in Georgia, shaping public opinion and combating violence against women, including sexual violence. We respect and promote the freedom of the press as a key pillar of a free and accountable society.  However, with that freedom comes the responsibility to act in an ethical, unbiased and fair manner. 

On 30 September 2019, a woman (T. T.) was allegedly subjected to physical violence and attempted rape by her male boss, a local MP of the City Council on the premises of the Council, in Tbilisi, Georgia.

On 6 October 2019, the Georgian TV channel Mtavari Arkhi invited T. T. to its studio, together with her legal representatives, to be interviewed about her experience. While there is high public interest in this story, the TV programme, including the interview with the survivor, ran contrary to ethical, gender-sensitive and human rights-based standards of dealing with sexual violence. These standards are guaranteed by the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (“Istanbul Convention”) and other human rights instruments to which Georgia is a party.

Concerning examples, displayed in the TV programme, include examining the survivor’s moral character, commenting on her attire at the time of the assault, enquiring whether she had had a previous intimate relationship with the abuser, confronting her with degrading comments from social media and other sources, and intimations about whether she provoked the perpetrator. These are merely reproductions of deeply rooted and harmful stereotypes about survivors of sexual violence and their behavior and none of them have a bearing on the crime accused. This effective “putting on trial” of the survivor, by society and the media, rather than examination of the behaviour of the alleged perpetrator, perpetuates damaging perceptions about sexual violence crimes, often leads to the denial of justice for survivors and discourages women and girls from reporting sexual violence at all. Good practice would also have been to publicize where any woman who has been affected by sexual violence could go for support.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe provides that reproducing and perpetuating gender stereotypes with respect to victims of gender-based violence constitutes sexism in the media (Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)). Additionally, it provides that media organizations should be encouraged to adopt self-regulatory measures, internal codes of conduct/ethics and internal supervision, and develop standards in media coverage that promotes gender equality, in order to promote a consistent internal policy and working conditions aimed at a non-stereotyped image, role and visibility of women and men, avoidance of sexist language and content which could lead to discrimination on grounds of sex, incitement to hatred and gender-based violence (Recommendation CM/Rec(2013)).

The Istanbul Convention, which Georgia ratified in 2017, imposes the responsibility on the private sector, in particular the media and the information and communication technology sector, to put in place self-regulatory standards to prevent violence against women and to enhance respect for their dignity (Article 17).

Survivors of sexual violence very seldom come forward and are frequently denied access to justice due to systemic and structural barriers. The gender-sensitive portrayal of survivors in the media is a key factor in promoting and strengthening social awareness on sexual violence, and has the potential to contribute to preventing and eradicating this widespread, yet not fully recognized, violation of women’s and girls’ rights in Georgia.

Taking into account the immense potential of the media to drive social change and combat sexual violence, we call upon Mtavari Arkhi and all Georgian media to uphold their social responsibility linked to the power they already hold in Georgian society.

In line with the Istanbul Convention and the standards developed by the Council of Europe, Equality Now calls upon Mtavari Arkhi to take measures to:

  • Promote a non-stereotyped image of survivors of sexual violence and the crime of sexual violence as a whole, with due consideration to the gravity of the crime and its effect on survivors, including development of appropriate guidelines on how to interview survivors of sexual and other violence against women and girls;
  • Strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct to condemn and combat sexism, including discriminatory language, in accordance with a comprehensive policy developed to eliminate such behaviour and language;
  • Proactively address the effects of gender stereotyping of sexual violence survivors by educating and raising awareness in society through sensitive media coverage of issues such as sexual violence against women and girls.

Several documents have been prepared in collaboration with civil society, which would be useful in setting standards for covering sexual violence issues. They include Zero Tolerance’s Media Guidelines on Violence Against Women.

Update: On 5 May 2020, Mtavari Arkhi became a signatory of the UN Women’s Women’s Empowerment Principles. The Women’s Empowerment Principles offer practical guidance to business and the private sector on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace, and community. UN Women will oversee the observance of ethical standards in covering women’s rights issues by Mtavari Arkhi. According to UN Women, Mtavari Arkhi is the first TV channel in the Caucasus region to become the signatory of the Women’s Empowerment Principles.