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Saakashvili on the Media

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, November 10
The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili spoke of democracy and freedom of expression in Georgian society during his speech at the Free University on November 8. Talking about TV stations having significant cultural and political influence on people’s identity, Saakashvili highlighted the fact that Russia has lost its influence over Georgian media space but not other post-Soviet countries.

Freedom, according to the President doesn’t mean the media scolding the Government everyday in the news. Explaining the importance of strengthening local TV stations Saakashvili welcomed the fact that the Georgian people don’t watch Russian broadcasters like ORT, NTV, RTR or thousands of other “abominable things”. “On the contrary, a Russian-language Georgian television is now being created and you will see how much audience it will take from them [the Russian broadcasters], because these are the television stations [referring to the Georgian ones], which originated from the democratic culture of an ancient nation with a genuine identity,” the President said referring to Georgian Public Broadcaster’s First Caucasian Channel.

First Caucasian, which is currently in the process of rebranding, has been oriented towards the Russian-speaking audience in North and South Caucasus and has to re-launch broadcasting no later than January 30, 2011. As for the Russian television stations carrying news, they remain blocked in Georgia following the August War 2008 when local cable TV networks stopped carrying them due to the apparent Government instructions. As a matter of a fact these Russian channels are however still available on satellite dishes.

Giving examples of Russia’s influence on Moldova, Ukraine and Central Asia, Saakashvili spoke of the “long way” Georgia has come in its total freedom from Russian influence. “Russia had significant cultural influence on our cultural space in 1990s. I don’t actually mean that we should fully break our relations with its culture but we should never become under Russia’s domination and avoid becoming its indivisible part,” Saakashvili said stressing that we should know everything about Russian culture just like Japanese, Chinese, Arab or Turkish cultures.

“Georgians, as a multi-ethnic country should always be one step ahead of the others,” Saakashvili said explaining that the Georgian identity, which is among the most important features of the country, refers to Armenian, Azerbaijan, Ossetian and Abkhazian people along with Georgians. “We, the multi-ethnic Georgian population should create everything new to release our country from what remains of the [Russian] empire and the return of the lost territories,” the President said reassuring the audience that the future is still in our hands.

Media analyst and Radio Liberty journalist, Ia Antadze, spoke to The Messenger about the situation within Georgian TV stations. “Studio Monitor has created a film about Georgian TV space from the Rose Revolutions in 2003 until the recent days. From the 13 TV stations located in Tbilisi the majority had been covering all of Georgia. But unfortunately journalistic investigation has revealed how those TV stations have been disappearing from the Georgian reality,” Antadze told us stressing that Kavkasia is the only channel which has kept both its owners and format during all these times.

Media owners which had been providing the public with information about the faults of the former Government through their journalists, have now been selected for their friendly relations with the current Government while journalists have been discouraged from acting according to usual media standards. “We know all these processes from the examples of Imedi TV and Rustavi 2. The authorities there were changed several times because of their political views... So I think that talks about the freedom of media in the Georgian society will be falsified,” the analyst said stressing that people should be able to watch any channel and learn how their local journalists are screening the news. “No one has a right to define the fields of influence in the democratic society. If someone for example yields to Russian influence let them reject such influence themselves!” Antadze said explaining that in the Internet age where all the information is available without restriction people shouldn’t meet obstacles in hearing the news.