To save Georgian media
23 December, 2010
To save Georgian media

The fourth branch of power needs international backing


According to the analytical research company of the Economist, British magazine, Georgia is in 103rd position by democracy index. Georgia neighbors Uganda, Mozambique, Cambodia, Kenya and Bhutan.

In comparison, the top five places went to Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand.
Majority of political experts think the rating for Georgia is fair but hope that the future holds much better prospects. Yet, in order for these prospects to materialize, sitting back and

waiting would not be enough because the problem is more complicated and deep-seated. What we need is to change the whole picture. Most importantly, the Governmental initiative must be accompanied by the engagement of public institutions. So, these institutions must change their approach to the current reality.
Everybody knows that objectivity of Georgian TV-media is something much wished. Most of the television channels apparently pursue Governmental policies. The experts confirm the phenomenon. Similar sentiments were repeatedly expressed by international institutions too. The non-governmental sector of Georgia, existence of which is still jeopardized, frequently complains about misconduct of many TV channels of Georgia; how they disregard all activities of opposition groups and any event related to them. In certain cases, facts are distorted on purpose. By doing so, they simply ditch interests of the audience, i.e. the whole society.
Even though excessive radicalism which predominates in the printed media seems to be overlooked intentionally in order to help create mythical feelings among aliens about balanced media in Georgia where opposition voices are identical to ultra-radicalism, still the real picture is easily visible. It’s a far cry from democratic values. After the so called Rose Revolution several political talk shows were closed down. A number of TV companies underwent changes in their ownership. Detailed description of further events would carry us away. It is worthwhile still to mention that several leading journalists, guided by a new Everything-But-Politics principle, changed their roles, turning to either politics or replacing political programs with social talk shows.
Recently, one more scandal gained momentum. Journalists of Presa.ge, one of the Georgian internet newspapers left the company in protest, declaring that a new owner changed the newspaper’s policy. Their frustration was so deep that later they held a press-conference, further detailing that due to a revamped Caucasus Online media group leadership, they were subjected to the intensive pressure. According to them, the new owners transferred Giorgi Kapanadze of Real TV to the position of general directorship of the holding (In Georgian media space, Real TV is considered as an openly Governmental channel). Gia Iakobashvili, one of the founders of this media website recalls that they founded Presa.Ge in 2007. A year later the site reached an extensive popularity and simultaneously joined the Caucasus Online media group. At the time, the sole owner of the Caucasus Online was Mamia Sanadiradze, who was forming an internet media group and needed to acquire Presa.Ge to this end. The Presa.Ge owners did not have anything against it because they were promised guaranteed salaries.
According to Iakobashvili, the newly formed media group took the entire advertisement space of Presa.Ge. There was no formal agreement between the two sides. They reached only a verbal accord. Subsequently, this was the way Presa.Ge materialized in the holding.
The former employees of Presa.Ge say that appointment of Kapanadze as the new Director did not get the confirmation of either Mamia Sanadiradze or foreign investor, who owned 20% of the media. Kapanadze is a crony of the Government, tasked to redraw the information policy, design, logo and human resources of the electronic enterprise. “That’s why we decided to leave the holding,” said the journalists at the press-conference.
The Georgian Journal contacted Giorgi Kapanadze on the matter. He said he is at a loss as he could not understand what the real interests of the journalists were when they left the job. Iakobashvili claimed that he has never pressured journalists. He added that he could not interfere with the creative work of journalists because he was covering only the commercial side of the business.
Former Presa.Ge journalists created a new website. They say they continue their fight to gain Presa.Ge back via legal actions.
Few days ago radio Palitra of our media holding interviewed Joni Nanetashvili, Director of regional Trialeti TV Company. He was straightforward in stating that he was contacted and offered GEL 6 million to sell his TV Company and leave the country.
“They told me that I should sell my TV for 6 million. I refused. Then they started to tyrannize Trialeti journalists and me openly, through phone calls and open threats from the Authorities,” said Joni Nanetashvili.
There is quite a high number of strange events which happened in Georgia recently regarding press and television. Yet, the most important thing is possibly not their number but the need to find a solution to the appalling conditions of the media today. Everybody has to be aware of real goings-on in the country because the only real weapon to improve situation in Georgia is an international pressure. It did certainly work in several instances, when they were applied. At any rate, there are people in the Authorities who felt the razor-sharpness of conclusions made by international organizations on Georgia and turned to more adequate way of analytical reasoning. If nothing has changed yet, the positive sign is still there because they, in the top cohorts of power, at least theoretically started to speak about the need of change. One of the shining but routine examples could be the publication of results of a certain public rating study and the reaction of the Parliament Speaker right on the next day. He said identities of media owners must be known to the public. Afterwards serious steps were undertaken in the legislative sphere to dust off the matter. So the dust was off - but nothing else was done.
It’s about the draft amendment of broadcasting law initiated by the Authorities recently. Eventually, this draft turned into the law which prohibited any ownership of Georgian media by offshore companies and set forth certain conditions for financial transparency. It should be noted that discussions of the legislative initiative on media transparency was put off for the spring sessions of the Parliament, the argument of the Chair being the insurmountable necessity of further consultations. The argument sharply contradicted earlier situation when consultations were believed to be over and all the aspects of the draft legislation were seen agreed upon. These seemingly finished jobs were accomplished by active representatives of the initiating group, non-governmental sector and Parliamentary opposition.
However, these accomplishments were suddenly crossed out by sordid statements of the Parliament Chairman that the Parliamentary Majority disagrees with certain previously agreed recommendations on media transparency regulations. The matter basically concerns those broadcasters who would receive licenses after the enactment of the given law.
Thus, the previously agreed issue has suddenly been backpedaled to an un-agreed stage. It’s a fact that the Authorities unexpectedly decided to halt the process.
Experts believe that Georgian Authorities must reform the judiciary system and media. “Everybody knows it very well for a long time that the judiciary system, election system and media need drastic overhauls. As early as in 2006, NATO pointed out exactly this point to Georgia at its summit. That’s why Georgia has not yet become a NATO member,” concludes Soso Tsiskarishvili.
Unpleasant situation encircles regional media too. Some time ago Association of Georgian Regional Broadcasters conducted a study in order to get the general picture of TV-media in regions and define its major problems. The study results showed that problems faced by the regional broadcasters require legislative intervention. So, the Association wholeheartedly supported the initiative on the improvement of media legislation.
While international community keeps talking at high-level meetings about democracy in Georgia, one can think about diplomatic gestures - nothing more. In their reports they depict real pictures. In the post-Soviet area, neither the name - gained in the fight with corruption - nor transformation of law enforcement bodies could serve as a democracy indicators. What is needed is mass media, the sole tool to mirror democracy in its natural color. Media freedom index is directly proportional to democracy in any given country; the democracy which looks positive only in those exceptional instances when we compare Georgia with countries such as Russia, Armenia, Cambodia or Uganda.

 

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