13.03.2023 Author: Henry Kamens

Georgian Media and NGO Activity on the Level of Potemkin Democracy!

Georgian Media

Georgian Legislative Showdown Reveals Murky Waters of Foreign Agents, NGOs and Media Outlets

What is now attracting all the media hype these days in Georgia is a proposed law most people should care less about, at least at first impression? However, when you dive deeper into the murky waters you realise much more is involved than meets the eye.

The ones complaining about it the most are the exact same ones who have received the most from the US government in terms of their budgets and targeted media activities. Thus, any claims of media independence are quickly diminished, and are closer to the Scarlet Letter of “fake news” in reality.

 The ones howling the loudest are like sheep killing dogs with wool stuck between their teeth.

An array of purported media outlets are quick to claim that the Russian-style foreign agent law currently being pushed through the Georgian Parliament could spell the beginning of the end for Georgia’s experiment with democracy. They loudly proclaim that only decisive action, in Georgia and from abroad, can prevent Georgia’s descent into authoritarianism.

What they are actually afraid of is that Potemkin Democracy, which best describes what has existed in Georgia since the end of the USSR, is being exposed for what it really is. Any domestic, homegrown effort at legislation, such the foreign agent law which is to be submitted to the Georgian Parliament, which is intended to support real independence is labelled by the Western paid media, in many instances, as some insidious Russian ploy.

White vs. Black Spies Amongst us!

It is almost amusing to read the comments of those weighing in on the discussion, albeit also really sad. Supposedly quoting one of the staunchest opponents of the draft law, OC Media maintains that it would affect any broadcaster, newspaper or Georgian-language online media platform operating in the country, and any entity registered in Georgia as a non-governmental organisation.

As I wrote to one colleague, “I might take a crack at what nasty bastards fund these so-called media sites. If only the populace knew what the NED and various media support organisations were, and for what purpose they have funded the media and the NGO community”.

It is claimed by the same OC Media that the foreign agent law would be a threat to Georgia’s EU aspirations, which is hard to fathom, as the EU wants to believe all its members are fully independent states. It also maintains that just because the draft law has been widely condemned in Georgian civil society, as well as abroad, it must be bad, in a country where the founder of the majority religion couldn’t even get a seconder for a proposal to save his own life.

Andrius Kubilius, a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and former Prime Minister of Lithuania, warned the proposal would ‘negatively affect [Georgia’s] prospects of starting the EU membership negotiations soon’. It should be remembered that in the 1990s Lithuania, like the other Baltic States which are now EU members, adopted some of the most restrictive nationality laws on earth precisely to show they were independent states, and thus worthy of EU membership.

The titles of the articles written against the law, such as ‘Fall of democracy’: Georgia’s foreign agent law widely condemned provide forgone conclusions. The tone and substance of these articles make you question the legitimacy of what is written, who paid for them, and whether most of the gobbledygook is part of some large media spin echo chamber.

How wide is widely? As those who are shouting the loudest against the law are the same media entities that benefit the most from foreign “soft power” funding, it is not difficult to see where this width can actually be found.

The language is basically the same, as if fledgling journalists still wet behind the ears are rewriting some press release.  All the articles basically say: “A proposed ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia has been widely condemned by civil society, the media and EU member states, who have compared it to similar legislation imposed by The Kremlin in Russia.

The new law, currently being pushed through parliament in Tbilisi, would make all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media outlets that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad register as ‘agents of foreign influence’ and report their revenue”.

It is interesting how so many, in Georgia, the US and the EU, are closing ranks on this law. Take for instance the statement by the Diplomatic Service of the EU on the draft law on “transparency of foreign influence”.

It is proffered that the proposed draft law on “transparency of foreign influence” raises serious concerns. The EU is one of the first organisations to call for transparency, but is now fighting the same by saying that the proposed law will “creating and maintain a less than enabling environment for civil society organisations and for ensuring media freedom is at the core of democracy”.

Furthermore, the press release of the EU, which appears intentionally ambiguous, describes how “the draft law’s adoption would be inconsistent with these aspirations and with EU norms and values”. Hence “We encourage the political leaders in Georgia to adopt and implement reforms that are in line with the stated objective of joining the European Union, as supported by a large majority of Georgia’s citizens.”

Many of these sites make claims about their approach to media coverage with such terms as fierce, independent journalism, etc. As the OC Media mission statement reads, “Let’s be honest, the media situation in the Caucasus is grim. Every day we are accused of ‘serving the enemy’ whoever that enemy may be.  Our journalists have been harassed, arrested, beaten, and exiled. But nevertheless, we persevere. For us this is a labour of love. Unfortunately, we cannot run OC Media on love alone, journalism is expensive and funding is scarce.”

In reality, the problem is not that their funding is scarce but that it is tainted by the agendas of US and EU organisations, with an obviously large portion of this funding coming from entities which are self-serving and directed from abroad, even in their human resource decisions, let alone what gets published.

Role of Medieval Serfs

Many media outlets play the role of medieval serfs, who will take any position for money. Meanwhile Georgians are being crushed between the grindstone of an inequitable system, and being run out of the country through the need for economic survival,

I am sure they would be motivated to know of the vast sums being spent on media and NGOs that are budgeted as being for their benefit. However, in reality they mostly benefit only the outlets themselves and their patrons.

The final word goes to Radio Free Europe, which reports that “The US State Department has expressed “deep concern” over the draft, saying its adoption could “potentially undermine Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration”. Speaking to reporters in Washington on February 15, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the proposed legislation “would stigmatise and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better future for their own communities.”

The US has basically the same law, known as FARA, as do many Western countries. FARA is the Foreign Agents Registration Act, enacted in 1938, which requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

In an attempt to address this question, the US Embassy website states, “These statements that the Georgian draft law is based on FARA are patently false. In fact, this draft legislation appears to be based on similar Russian and Hungarian legislation, not on FARA or any other American legislation.” However, perhaps in the interests of transparency, examples of these similarities and differences are not given.

So does this mean that Georgia has only one friend left in Europe, Hungary?

I hope I will not experience the plight of others subject to the terms of FARA for writing this article. For instance, in 2018, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a Russian national, was charged by criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia for her alleged role in a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the US political system, including the 2018 midterm election. The complaint alleges that Khusyaynova conspired to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the US Department of Justice to administer and enforce FARA, among other offences.

I am unable to find where the case ended up, as the charges were likely motivated by a reward scheme. If the Georgian government did the same when foreign entities and others interfered in its elections and it fledgling democracy, it would break the National Budget.

Double and Triple Standards

Freedom of expression only applies if you say what the Free World wants. Ask others with both Georgian and Ukrainian connections who have had close encounters with the wrath of Samuel Patten, who was an advisor to both the United National Movement and the Georgian Dream, as well as various Ukrainian politicians.

According to public information, back in 2018 this Samuel Patten, an American citizen and graduate of Georgetown University, pleaded guilty in the District of Columbia to violating FARA by engaging in lobbying and political consulting in the United States on behalf of the Opposition Bloc, a Ukrainian political party, without registering under FARA.

Patten contacted members of Congress, the executive branch, and the news media, drafted talking points for a Ukraine oligarch for meetings with members of Congress and congressional staff and helped the oligarch draft articles targeted at the US press. However he then cooperated with and provided substantial assistance to the government, and was thus sentenced merely to 36 months of probation, the proverbial slap on the wrist.

The purpose of Georgia’s draft legislation, as with FARA and its many equivalents in the West, is not to restrict speech, but rather to identify it as the speech of a foreign principal (when fairly attributed) or those who benefit from foreign aid or influence. This would enable both Georgian and American audiences to consider the source when evaluating the message or determining the intention of the project.

The same law would also apply to foreign principals who are Russian. It is rational to assume that the US and EU would welcome such an initiative for exactly this reason, as it would help provide a final break with the Soviet past. However they seem to feel, without prompting, that they would be more affected by this law than Russia, when the justification for their presence in Georgia is to keep Russia out.

FARA does not require registration simply because a person expresses views that are favourable to, or coincide with, the interests of a foreign country or a foreign individual. It only applies if that person is paid to express such opinions publicly, and those opinions can therefore be attributed to their source, in the same way people distinguish between a news report about a holiday destination and a paid advertisement for that same destination.

When Billy Carter, brother of President Jimmy Carter, received $220,000 from Libya to serve its interests he crossed the line that separates independent conduct from conduct as an agent. Consequently ‘Brother Jimmy’ had no further dealings with him whilst he was president. However The Clinton Foundation does much worse, and gets away with it, so if FARA is being held up as an alternative to the Georgian draft law, it is not a very good one.

I earnestly hope that the Georgian Parliament passes this law on foreign agents, and will model it on the American one, as just too much money is being squandered in the Georgian media, and people are being manipulated into thinking pro-Western is the same as impartial, in the same way pro-Soviet was expressed as rational. The so-called English free media in Georgia is a hired gun, as are the “top-down”, foreign agenda-driven NGOs, whose main objective is to eat money and move on to the next project.

There is always the hope that nobody will ever hold them accountable for their lack of success, their meddling in the internal affairs of developing countries and why their much-touted projects usually lack any semblance of sustainability. If the public could see by reference to the law who was a foreign agent and who was not, there would be someone who could do that.

Of course Ned Price, Samantha Power, USAID, NED and CIA don’t like this draft about “Foreign Agents”, although the Russiaphobe USA set the course with such laws in the first place.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

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