WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President Jamie Fly addressed the importance of press freedom and journalist safety during visits last week to Georgia and Armenia, two countries where journalists have been violently attacked in recent months. During his visits, Fly met with senior government officials including Prime Ministers Irakli Garibashvili and Nikol Pashinian, visited RFE/RL bureaus in Tbilisi and Yerevan, met with local journalists and media advocacy groups, and sat for interviews with prominent media outlets in both countries.
From July 25-27, Fly was in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to visit with the local staff of RFE/RL’s Georgian Service, Radio Tavisupleba, where three journalists were physically and verbally attacked during a violent anti-LGBTQ demonstration on July 5, when more than 50 Georgian journalists reporting on the protest were assaulted. In addition to meeting with RFE/RL staff, Fly also met with journalists working for other outlets who expressed their concerns about a “new normal” in Georgia defined by increased pressure on independent media and violence.
Fly had the opportunity to discuss these and related concerns during formal meetings with Prime Minister Garibashvili, Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, Georgian Parliament Chairman Kakhaber Kuchava, and parliamentary opposition faction chair Khatia Dekanoidze. During his meeting with Garibashvili, Fly pressed the Prime Minister on the need for an investigation of the events of July 5 and demanded that those who funded and directed violent assaults on journalists be held accountable. Further, Fly urged the government to ensure the media, a key pillar of democracy, be protected as they cover the upcoming elections. Fly discussed these questions as well in an interview with Georgia’s Formula TV.
In Yerevan, Fly met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian to discuss he safety and security of RFE/RL journalists in Yerevan and the role of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Radio Azatutyun, in providing objective news and information to the Armenian people. Pashinyan and Fly discussed the important role that independent media can play in supporting democracy. Fly also met with the leader of Armenia’s opposition faction, Artur Vanetsyan to discuss Azatutyun’s work as well as with Armenia’s newly appointed Ambassador to the U.S., Lilit Makunts.
Fly visited RFE/RL’s bureau in Yerevan and met with the local staff of Azatutyun Radio, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. Azatutyun journalists have come under significant pressure from nationalist and opposition forces in Armenia for its balanced reporting on last year’s war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and during Armenia’s recent parliamentary election. Fly was also interviewed by Armenia’s leading TV channel, Public TV Channel One, where he talked about the challenges that RFE/RL is facing in Russia, Belarus, Afghanistan and other countries where RFE/RL journalists and bureaus are being harassed by authorities.
RFE/RL’s Georgian Service, known locally as Radio Tavisupleba, is a trusted source of politically and financially independent journalism in a country where much of the media is aligned the government or the opposition. The Service is a standard-bearer of professional, innovative, and independent journalism, and a unique source of reporting on minority rights in Georgia. In 2020, the Service’s websites, radiotavisupleba.ge and ekhokavkaza.com, were visited more than 23 million times, and Tavisupleba videos were viewed over 76 million times on Facebook.
RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, known locally as Radio Azatutyun, has paired exemplary journalism with digital innovation to become a leading source of credible, independent news on multiple platforms. The Service’s television channel, Azatutyun TV is earning new audiences on more than a dozen cable providers including the major cable platforms Ucom and Rosstelecom. In 2020, the Service’s website, azatutyun.am, was visited more than 24 million times, and Azatutyun videos were viewed over 321 million times on YouTube.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.