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Polarization, interference obstructs path to free media

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, August 9
Leader of the opposition Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has made a special appeal towards those journalists and media outlets “that are serving a lie” and encouraged them to give up such action.

Ivanishvili, who is certain the Georgian Dream will come to power after the parliamentary elections, underscored that the media’s role during the pre-election campaigns will be very significant.

“It is my request and public demand to you to change your position until after the election and fulfill your duties appropriately. Do not partake in violence and be objective; if not, when we come to power it will be difficult for you to keep your place in society, as Georgians already feel frustration towards many journalists,” Ivanishvili stated.

The statement, which can be taken both as a request and a threat, was followed with a general assessment of the current Georgian media reality. Ivanishvili emphasized that it is not unknown for him how hard it is to keep balance and be impartial when there is material hardship in the country.

“I understand that many journalists are in a really bad situation and under serious pressure. We will stand with you. After two weeks, a lot of international observers will come to the country and will provide relief for you,” Ivanishvili stated.

The role of the media and its influence is well known and recognized by all representatives of society, international community and so on– not just during the pre-election period. The media situation is the issue that is frequently discussed within the country. In fact, influential international research has revealed that the media situation in Georgia is not “enviable.”

The IREX report entitled Media Sustainability Index 2012 has revealed that political control over media outlets in Georgia has strengthened recently.

NGOs acting in Georgia also mention that the greatest problem for the Georgian media is polarization.

According to Project Manager of Transparency International Georgia, Mathias Huter, a major percentage of the Georgian media is either pro-government-leaning or in the opposition. “All political subjects try to attract various media outlets to spread their messages. However, I believe that this is the indicator of an incorrect political culture. Political forces should realize that the media should remain independent; they should refrain from attempting to influence them,” Huter stated.

However, how can the media maintain its impartiality when according to media analysts, there are serious problems in the country concerning media financing. In this regard, Huter feels that media organizations should create business models that will enable them to independently attract money. Huter emphasized that creating and building such a model will not be easy. “There are two main problems: it requires strong management on one hand, and on the other hand, the small advertising market in Georgia is not large enough to support a plethora of media outlets,” Huter said.

According to the majority of representatives, media outlets should find a way to act as independent players.

Journalists and those media outlets that are perceived as part of the opposition rather than supporting the government present two more obstacles: they will receive no free business, nor are they able to gain a strong political hand.

“There are very few chances for independent channels to increase their advertisement sales. That being said, when they have no independent finances, it makes it very difficult to function at all,” representative of Kavkasia TV, Nino Jangirashvili stated.

Those within the independent media claim frequently that despite their popularity within society, they are able to sell little to no advertisement space due to governmental pressure on businesses.

The government responds to these accusations by stating that it is greatly dependent on how popular the channel or printed media is. According to government officials, in the case that the channel has interesting programming, it is natural that the broadcaster/publication will be more attractive for perspective clients; the government has no involvement in this.