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Imedi TV slammed for hoax report of Russian invasion

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, March 15
Imedi did not intend to make people nervous, its Director General Giorgi Arveladze posted on his Facebook page following the panic and anger caused by a fake report aired by the TV channel late on Saturday. A spoof Kronika news programme aired on Imedi as part of the talk show Special Report showed the Russian Army conducting an attack on Georgian cities, including the capital Tbilisi.

The anchor of Special Report initially warned viewers that the report was a mocked-up scenario of what Georgia could face if the country does not consolidate against Russia’s plans. However the fake news bulletin itself did not include any indication for the audience that the events portrayed were not actually happening.

Soon after the start of the programme Georgian news agencies reported panic among the Georgian population, mainly that in the regions adjacent to the conflict zones. Interpressnews reported that there was an increase in calls to the emergency services and people had had heart attacks.

Instead of being nervous about disasters “which we think are taking place, it is better to correctly assess what is really happening, which tomorrow will undoubtedly lead to such a disaster,” Arveladze’s post on Facebook reads. “Think about the fact that if there had been a TV channel in Georgia at the end of 1920 and it had aired an exact simulation of what then happened in February 1921 it might have made many Georgians look at the threat differently and show more resistance to the enemy.” Arveladze apologised to people who had been misled by the mocked-up report and said that it should have been “explained in a better way” that it was a simulation of something which may or may not happen in the future.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili criticised the producers of the report for not making it sufficiently clear that the news programme was just a made up scenario. There should have been subtitles on the screen accompanying the report, Saakashvili stated. However, the President said that the simulation was “maximally close” to the possible development of events under the “plans of Georgia’s enemy.” Saakashvili warned journalists to be more careful when dealing with the issue of the Georgian armed forces. “They can say anything they want about me, however more care is needed with the Army because it is something the Georgian State is based on,” the President said, referring to the passage in the mock report which said that some units of the Georgian Army had declared disobedience to the Georgian Government.

The Georgian administration had refrained from talking about Russia until some opposition leaders began visiting Moscow, Saakashvili said. “It is a problem when you do not recognise the occupation of your country and want to overthrow your Government. We have already gone down this road, when feudal lords, angry with their kings, led the enemy army into Georgia. Now these people [the opposition] are saying that are establishing relations with Russia with a blank piece of paper, one on which Georgia is not reintegrated, a very dirty piece of paper,” Saakashvili stated in Bolnisi on Sunday.

Georgian opposition parties have suggested that the hoax show was part of the Government’s propaganda aimed at “blackmailing and scaring” the population. The Parliamentary minority Christian-Democratic Movement has demanded an investigation to identify all those “in whose heads this unhealthy idea was born and realised.” Speaking at a special press conference on Sunday, the CDM’s Giorgi Akhvlediani said the mocked up report aired on Imedi TV was a “special task” given by the Georgian Government to the channel. “The threats from Russia really exist and we have never refrained from talking about this, but the Government inflating these threats and declaring war on its own citizens is an absolutely unjustified action,” Akhvlediani said.

The Alliance for Georgia, led by Georgia’s former Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania, also placed responsibility for the consequences of the hoax report on the Georgian administration, which according to the Alliance has “monopolised practically the whole TV space and in this way terrorised its own people.” “This maniacal imitation was aimed at scaring and blackmailing the people. The Government’s irresponsible actions caused mass panic and heavy psychological stress for people already traumatised by the August war in 2008,” Davit Gamkrelidze of the Alliance said.

Former Speaker of the Georgian Parliament and current leader of the opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia Nino Burjanadze, who was negatively referred to in the mocked-up report in relation to her recent visits to Moscow, said she is going to sue Imedi TV. Speaking to journalists at a protest outside the Imedi premises late on Saturday, she said that the lawyers of her party are already working on this suit, which will be submitted to the court on Monday. The Movement for Fair Georgia, led by former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, who has lately been a subject of criticism from the media and officials for his meetings in The Kremlin, also said that it will “take action” against the “propaganda” aired by Imedi TV.

Vice Speaker of the Parliament and opposition MP Paata Davitaia demanded the setting up of a special Parliamentary Commission which would make a “legislative-political” assessment of the simulated news programme. The MP suggested that the mocked-up show could have been a “special operation of a foreign country's special services” aimed at finding out ways of carrying out a military aggression against Georgia.

One of the most outspoken critics of Saakashvili’s administration, leader of the Labour Party Shalva Natelashvili, demanded the calling of a special session of the UN Security Council and the appointing of a special prosecutor in The Hague tribunal format to make Saakashvili and “his allies” answer for this “war propaganda”. Speaking at a special press conference on Sunday, Natelashvili demanded that Imedi TV be closed down and returned to its “legal owners,” the family of late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, its previous owner.

Ruling National Movement officials have denied opposition claims that the hoax show was ordered by the Government, saying this allegation is “absurd.” Vice Speaker of Parliament Mikheil Machavariani said the mocked-up report had damaged the Georgian administration most of all. He criticised the report, saying that it was unacceptable for the whole of society, including the Government. “Such things should not be repeated,” Machavariani said.

National Movement MP Pavle Kublashvili assessed the report as a “vivid example of what happens when a TV channel forgets about its viewers.” At the same time Kublashvili downplayed opposition accusations against the Government, saying that any criticism from people who have declared that “if the Russian tanks enter Georgia they will overthrow Saakashvili’s regime with those tanks” is unacceptable.

The hoax report also caused a negative outcry in the de facto republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. De facto Abkhazian President Sergey Baghapsh declined to comment on the “unhealthy ideas” of the Georgian administration, Russian news agencies reported late on Saturday, while the de facto South Ossetian Foreign Ministry called the report “delirium.”

De facto Tskhinvali officials warned about the appearance of Georgian military equipment at the village of Mejvriskhevi, close to the administrative border with South Ossetia, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on Sunday. “Georgia is planning a new provocation against the Republic of South Ossetia,” de facto Special Representative in Post Conflict Regulation Issues, Boris Chochiev said, according to Osinform news agency, linking this to the hoax programme.

The Georgian Interior Ministry has denied the information spread by the Russian and South Ossetian media. Interior Ministry Spokesman Shota Utiashvili said there has been no rotation of Georgian military units at the administrative border. “The situation is peaceful on this territory,” Interpressnews quoted Utiashvili as saying. He did however confirm reports that Russian Army units had been put on military readiness. “This happened while the Imedi TV report was still on air,” Utiashvili said, according to the news agency.

Hundreds of people gathered at Rose Revolution Square on Sunday to protest against the simulation. Opposition politicians, media representatives and NGOs joined the demonstration. The participants expressed doubt that the Government did not know about the content of the mocked-up report in advance. Nana Kakabadze, Chair of the NGO Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights, said at the rally that a lawsuit against the Georgian Government will be submitted to the court in the near future.