Media in Georgia

Ștefan Cândea
These days, the Georgian press is thoroughly analyzing a smashing thrashing in the studio of an important television studio. Several leaders of a radical Orthodox Christian group gave their opponents a scrumptious Christian beating. A few journalists also cashed in a couple of blessed blasts. Not long ago, another television stirred panic throughout the country with a live broadcast of an invasion of Russian tanks, a report invented and directed through and through.

This may seem odd, but the press in Georgia took a big step backwards the moment the country ‘gained’ a bit more democracy and set out to eradicate the prevailing corruption. That is, right after the Rose Revolution when Mikheil Saak'ashvili (Misha) became president. As a consequence of overthrowing Shevardnadze’s corrupt and pro-Soviet regime, critical and investigative journalism began to fade out. After several years of confusion, an alternative press established itself on the Internet, making the most of social networking websites to promote their materials. The rest of the press is very poorly developed professionally, ultra-politicized and smothered by broadcasting press conferences as major events (sound familiar?).

The explanation resides, of course, in the stockholders of newspapers and radio-TV stations. It is quite difficult to find information on who is behind corporations owning media companies. A recent report of OSCE regarding municipal elections emphasizes this aspect in the chapter on media. It basically discusses politicians or influential businessmen whose businesses extend beyond the field of mass media. More often than not, the same person is a politician, businessman and media owner (for example, the mayor of Zugdidi). Generalized corruption (small corruption) is indeed on its last legs, but the new regime has paved the way for big businesses under government control, hidden by fiscal paradises to which oligarchs owning media companies also have access. Furthermore, controlling the press by state debt amnesty and government advertising applies also here. The government has recently proposed wiping the slate clean with state debt amnesty for all TV stations (over 10 million Euros) without mentioning, however, the sum each TV stations owes the state. The state debt of each television is considered commercial secret. The state has constantly refused to make them public and the TV stations all the more so.

Nino Zuriashvili, along with her colleagues, used to produce one of Rustavi 2's (a private TV station) most thorough investigative reports (the ‘60 minutes’ format). After the Democrats came to power, their programme was taken off the air. Its producer is now running a business programme. Nino and some of her colleagues started their own investigative reports on the new governments. However, they quickly realized they had run out of clients. An investigation on the way special operations to crush criminality are run in the Svaneti region came against the same partners’ refusal to broadcast it. The material clearly showed a chief of special operations take advantage of his troops’ presence in the region to solve an affair by military means.

Her reports were turned down (though they had been offered for free) by every TV station and, obviously, by the public television. Nino set up her own investigative production company, Monitor Studio, and is publishing online together with other independent producers ( Traditional journalism indulges in a fierce partiality without digging around huge businesses of the government and president Saak'ashvili’s clientele. Day by day, a large part of the press sing Misha’s praises whose face and heroic deeds appear constantly in newspapers, on TV and street billboards. Prime-time news on the president’s visit to a foreign country lasts about 15 minutes. Various shots quickly alternate and have to be broadcast a couple of times more to accompany the stream of significant details such as the name of each person Misha shook hands with.