The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) is deeply concerned that if this bill is enacted, it could be used to crack down on independent media and civil society.
A new bill in Georgia that passed the first phase of the legislative process on March 7 would force media outlets and NGOs to register as “agents of foreign influence” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad. If signed into law, this legislation could have a chilling effect on journalists: Sources might be afraid to speak with them, and funding for media outlets could dry up. Russia instituted a similar foreign agent law in 2012 and used it to put independent media and civil society under increasing pressure until they were effectively obliterated.
OCCRP has three long-standing media member centers in Georgia: Studio Monitori, IFACT.ge, and Journalistic Data Processing Center. All have published important investigations that serve the Georgian public, as well as contributed to OCCRP’s cross-border investigations.
“It would be nice to think that the passage of this bill is simply a transparency measure,” said OCCRP Editor in Chief Miranda Patrucic. “But we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends. All we need to do is look at Russia. The people of Georgia have always fiercely fought for their democracy and freedom of speech, and they deserve better.”
The bill will have to move through two more rounds of voting before coming into force. If it is passed into law, not only will it have immediate and serious implications for journalists in Georgia, but it could embolden other post-Soviet countries to implement laws that stifle media and civil society. For example, both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are now considering adopting similar legislation.
Nino Bakradze, an investigative journalist and the co-founder of iFact, said even the preliminary passage of the bill was creating a stigma against media outlets like hers.
“The government has already started labeling media and NGOs as spies of foreign countries,” she said.
But Bakradze noted that there is also considerable public opposition to the idea of a Russian-style foreign agent law.
“Hundreds of thousands stand in the streets of Tbilisi — even as I speak, a protest is taking place in front of Parliament,” she said. “The government has a choice to stop the hearings related to the draft law or delay the process somehow.”
Contact: Communications Officer Lauren Jackman [email protected]