January 31, 2013 - 8:37am, by Giorgi Lomsadze

Armenia and Georgia, neighbors that compete over just about anything,
from cuisine to culture, now seem to be going head to head over press
freedom. Key media-freedom watchdogs seem to diverge about which of
the two countries should take the lead in the South Caucasus.

For years, Georgia has carried the torch for media freedom torch
in the region, a place that is hardly a bulwark of independent or
high-quality media to begin with. But, according to the latest press
freedom charts by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, Armenia
has taken over the baton.

The country was placed 77th in a ranking of 179 countries, 33 notches
above Georgia, and way ahead of neighbors Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran.

Reporters without Borders wrote that both Armenia and Georgia "enjoy
broad media pluralism and a low level of state censorship, but they
still face important challenges concerning media independence and
the working environment of journalists" who are "often treated as
easy prey by a variety of pressure groups."

Ahead of Armenia's February 18 presidential election, the
powers-that-be are dominating mainstream media, but face bold
criticism by a variety of smaller news outlets. Yet despite this
dynamic, Armenia is still considered as "not free" by Washington,
DC-based Freedom House, and is placed behind "party free" Georgia.

In its last assessment, which focused on events in 2011, Freedom House
said that Georgia, with its increasingly competitive media environment,
is still the regional leader.

The only country in the South Caucasus that causes no divergence of
views among watchdog groups is Azerbaijan. Everyone seems to agree
that the richest of the lot is also the most repressive.

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