Georgia: New draft law requires internationally funded media outlets to register as “foreign agents”
A draft law to require entities receiving money from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence” was introduced by the People’s Power party to the Georgian Parliament on 20 February 2023. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliate, the Independent Association of Georgian Journalists (IAGJ), in criticising the proposed law and calling for its withdrawal.
In the name of “transparency”, the draft law would require organisations receiving over 20% of their income from a ‘foreign power’ to register on a ‘Foreign Influence Agents Registry’, or face fines of up to ₾25,000 (8,900€). It would affect any broadcaster, newspaper, or Georgian-language online media platform as well as any non-governmental organisation registered in Georgia. The draft law is similar to the foreign agent law first adopted by Russia in 2012, which was then extended in 2019 to individuals, including journalists.
Yesterday, more than 300 non-governmental organisations and media outlets issued a joint statement opposing the initiative, stating that “Russian law is certainly not the type of governance that Georgian citizens aspire to have in our country”.
Georgia’s Public Defender (Ombudsman) also took a stand against the draft law, stating that it doesn’t comply with international or national human rights standards and is incompatible with the basic principles of a modern democratic state.
IAGJ President Zviad Pochkhua said: “This bill aims to limit the voice of independent media and non-governmental organisations in Georgia. We are very concerned that some government leaders and members of the parliamentary majority have expressed their support for the bill, trying to create a false perception of its nature and objectives.”
He added: “The draft law on foreign agents is proposed in the context of Russia’s growing influence in Georgia and the ongoing occupation of Georgian territories, which adds further concerns about the purpose of this law.
EFJ President Maja Sever also expressed concern about the impact of such a law on civil liberties and media freedom in Georgia: “It is a bad signal for Georgian media and civil society organisations. Under the guise of transparency, this law would put financial and administrative pressure on those who contribute to the democratic life of Georgian society, while it is perfectly legal to receive money from abroad. In view of the many criticisms, we hope that it will be withdrawn quickly.”