Public Defender’s Statement on Incitement to Discrimination in the Media

In the recent days, three cases of incitement to discrimination have been identified in the media, which the Public Defender considers a considerable problem.

In the first case, on October 12, 2022, one of the presenters joked about deaf people in the Big Break programme on Adjara TV, which was followed by laughter from other presenters.[1] On October 18, 2022, the guest invited to the Formula TV morning show drew a parallel between the dog care by the owner and the upbringing of children by parents and brought an example of children with autistic spectrum disorder.[2] The presenters of the programme did not distance themselves from the mentioned comparison.

It should be noted that after the sharp reaction of the public, explanations were made on the social network pages of both programmes.[3] In addition, the Formula TV morning show team expressed a clear disapproval of the content of the programme and apologized for not responding in time, which is a good example of the responsibility shown by the media.

As for Adjara TV’s explanation, it contained, to a large extent, a justifying content. The presenters of the programme talked about the incident the next day as well,[4] when the presenter asked for forgiveness. However, the reaction still did not contain an acknowledgment of the mistake. The presenters mainly emphasized that the video was spread out of context and that the public's reaction was sad and unexpected. The programme's editor later noted: "I think it's nothing catastrophic, it can happen to anyone, any person can do something wrong, not on purpose, but the response that followed it, I think, was completely inadequate."[5]

According to the Public Defender's assessment, such an explanation, which was not followed by a clear condemnation of the fact, cannot be considered a proper response based on the realization of the harmful nature of the incident, which is especially unfortunate considering the status of the Public Broadcaster’s Adjara Television and Radio. Adjara TV is a publicly funded, accountable broadcaster, the goal of which is to provide diverse programmes considering the public interests. In addition, the broadcaster is obliged to take into account the interests of persons with disabilities in its programmes. The Law of Georgia on Broadcasting stipulates separately the obligation of promoting the potential of persons with disabilities and their contribution to public life in order to raise public awareness. Thus, Adjara TV, as a public broadcaster, can be said to have a double responsibility in supporting the principles of tolerance and equality.

As for the third fact, on October 20, another case of incitement to discrimination was identified in the Formula 12 programme of Formula TV. The story about an alleged incident of violence in one of the public schools contained the comment of one of the teachers,[6] who spoke about the incident in the context of the child's mental developmental delay. It is true that the TV presenter assessed the teacher's comment as containing stigma and stereotypes and distanced herself from her views during the live broadcast, however, the comment was pre-recorded, which allowed it to be aired without a segment inciting discrimination.

Attitudes containing stigma and stereotypes towards persons with disabilities are still widespread. Many of these persons are isolated from society, which is why they often become victims of discrimination while enjoying basic human rights and freedoms. The public expressions containing a content that mocks or degrades their dignity further reinforces stereotypes and prejudices that prevent persons with disabilities from living independently and participating in public life.

Accordingly, the Public Defender once again calls on journalists and representatives of the media not to allow the spread of discriminatory expressions in the media space and to pay special attention to their role in the process of overcoming stereotypes and stigma in the society and in promoting the establishment of the idea of ​​equality in the country.

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