The U.S. State Department has expressed “deep concern” over a draft “foreign agent” media law in the Georgian parliament, saying its adoption could “potentially undermine Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”
Speaking to reporters in Washington on February 15, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the proposed legislation “would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better future for their own communities.”
Under the proposed legislation, media in Georgia that receive more than 20 percent of their income from foreign sources would need to register as foreign agents.
The legislation was drafted by members of the populist People’s Power, a political party founded in August 2022 by Georgian lawmakers who left the ruling Georgian Dream party. People’s Power, which is critical of U.S. actions in Georgia, currently holds nine seats in Georgia’s 150-seat parliament but supports the ruling majority.
The party introduced its media draft law — titled On Transparency Of Foreign Influence — in parliament on February 14 for debate.
It would require all media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from foreign sources to register as “foreign agents” and report their total annual income.
Washington has raised with Tbilisi its concerns over the proposed law, Price said.
“We are deeply concerned about its implications for freedom of speech and democracy in Georgia. We’ve expressed those deep concerns directly to our interlocutors in the government of Georgia,” Price told reporters in Washington.
On September 6, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Georgia needed to speed up reforms in areas such as the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and media freedom before it can be granted the status of a candidate for European Union membership.
In its annual press rankings issued in 2022, Reporters Without Borders ranked Georgia 89th out of 180 countries, a drop from the previous index.
The report said it reflected an “unprecedented” number of physical assaults on journalists in the country in 2021, noting “official interference” undermined efforts undertaken to improve press freedom.
The media watchdog called the press landscape in the country “diverse” but “heavily polarized” and noted media owners “kept their hand” in controlling the editorial content of outlets. It also highlighted a strengthening of regional and community radio stations amid a decline of print media readership and a growth of online news audiences.