Last Wednesday, on February 22nd, the President of Georgia, mr. Mikheil Saakashvili, visited the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, where he gave a speech on the reforms and policies under his government. The speech itself was factual and brief; afterwards, mr. Saakashvili entered in an open debate with students and university staff, who were allowed to ask questions regarding the state of affairs in Georigia, and its international relations and positions.
One student asked him to explain the drop Georgia has made in the Press Freedom Index: in the 2011-2012 listing, Georgia has been ranked 104th, whereas it used to be on place 99 in 2010 (which in turn was the result of a steep drop compared to the ranking of 2009). The President answered as follows:
"Well, to begin, I would like to say that such indeces are always a little subjective. [I think what he also meant to say was that indeces include the assessments of incidental or momentary situations.] But, I know that in my country, when a politician (also opposition) wakes up in the morning with an idea or an argument, he can call around.. and by the afternoon it will have reached all media. We have different channels in Georgia, and the oppositional ones or commercial ones have more money than the state channel. In print, two large newspapers are actually in the hands of opposition figures. And of course we have Internet, which is open, and everyone can use it. [Here he gave the example of his son who spent some time in China and, "Of course, he knew that there are some sites in Chine that you cannot see, you cannot visit them. But within a matter of maybe two hours, he had found his way around the block."] So it's no use trying to block it, people are smart.
But to return to Georgia. Like I just explained, we have no problem with plurality. But we have a problem with professionalism. I think our journalists do not work professionally or efficiently, maybe they have no idea of the importance of their position, what work they could do. So yes, on the matter of professionalism, I would agree that we need to improve."
I do not know Georgia or its current state of affairs very well, and thus would not be able to adequately judge mr. Saakashvili's argument. I was wondering what you think of mr. Saakashvili's way of playing down such accusations of restraining press freedom?