We would like to respond to speculative coverage of the high-profile murder case of Mariam Kochaladze through media, which periodically emerges outlets in xenophobic context over the last year in a different media outlets.
On July 22, 2013 the dead body of Mariam Kochaladze was found in Batumi. According to the preliminary investigation, the suspect of the crime was a foreigner, in particular, a citizen of Iran. On the ground of suspect's identity, the family members and friends of victim appealed to religious motive, in its turn some media outlets spread the remarks made on emotional ground based solely on one source without verification. Due to the high public interest toward the resonant murder , covering the incident in the Islamophobic context reinforces such negative attitudes.
On July 24, 2014 Internet portals Ambebi. ge republished article by the magazineSarke, which base on only one source - the victim's godfather, develops the opinion that the murder was committed on religious grounds (ritual of sacrifice) and it was linked with the girl's decision to abandon the Turkish school and alleged threats from the university's administration.
First of all, it should be noted that to avoid misleading of the audience the media should verify the information at least with two independent sources, especially when it comes to controversial factual circumstances and sensitive issues. The above mentioned article is based on emotional statements of victims' relative and there is no indication that journalist took reasonable actions to verify the accuracy of the reported facts. The media outlets did not rechecked the information with official investigation about the motives of the murder.
We believe that spreading unspecified assumptions about the motive of the murder is aggravated by emphasizing the religious themes, as drawing unjustified parallels between particular negative event and religious origin, associating specific incident with the entire group could incite hatred and reinforce negative stereotypes related to Islam, often expressed in a form of anti-Turkish sentiments in Georgian media.
We call on editorial of internet-portal Ambebi.ge and magazine Sarke:
- To correct information through a proportional means and forms in order to avoid misleading the audience and not to incite hatred and intolerance on the grounds of religious or ethnic origin.
- Taking into account the fact that since making the initial statement about the preliminary information of the crime by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, no updated report has been provided to inform the society about the ongoing investigation, at the same time interest toward this high-profile murder case is still high, so we call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Chief Prosecutor's Office:
- To provide information for public and media about the results of the investigation and the motives of the murder, as lack of information could create a fertile ground for a variety of assumptions, which ultimately incite religious and ethnic intolerance.
Media Development Foundation, MDF
Georgian Muslims' Union
Malkhaz Songulashvili, Bishop of Georgia's Evangelical Baptist Church
Tolerance and Diversity Institute, TDI
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, EMC
Open Society Georgia Foundation, OSGF
Georgian Democracy Initiative, GDI
P.S. Signing organizations welcome the fact that in response to the statement disseminated on July 29, editorial of internet portal Ambebi.ge removed the publication by the magazine Sarke about Mariam Kochaladze's murder case from the web-page. We think that the decision in response to a joint statement of non-governmental and religious organizations shows responsible and accountable approach of the editorial and hope that other media outlets and first of all magazine Sarke as a source of original story will follow Ambebi.ge's positive example.