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Top Ten contest gets hot

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, January 21
Georgia is a country of surprises, and there is always something new happening. Recently the hottest issue, discussed countrywide, has been whether the public broadcaster (the First Channel) should continue to broadcast the show The Top Ten Best Georgians, the domestic version of a programme broadcast in many other countries.

The Georgian Public Broadcaster gained permission to reproduce the format of this show from the BBC. It was designed as entertainment, like the versions in other countries. The public is given a list of significant historical personages and asked to vote for who was the best among them, with advocates and critics discussing their merits. However the Georgian show was soon given a political and later religious character and as a result became yet another “battlefield” for people of different political, moral or religious beliefs.

First Manana Archvadze, the widow of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, organized a loud protest rally backed up by her supporters. There was a possible reason: in the beginning Gamsakhurdia was leading the voting but later King David took the lead and the scandal started. Archvadze demanded that Zviad Gamsakhurdia be taken out of the list completely. Then the Patriarchate intervened and demanded that persons regarded by the Georgian church as saints be taken out of the list. Thus the avalanche started.

The Church is against the inclusion of its saints in the list because it believes saints should not be placed in competition with secular people. Certain unbelievers have begun criticizing the Church for interfering in secular life and restricting freedom of opinion. The population is divided. Some think the show is purely entertainment but some feel it abuses the Georgian Orthodox Church and its interests, although the show is popular in other Orthodox countries, as the Public Broadcaster has pointed out.

The situation at present is that The Top Ten Best Georgians will still be aired each Friday in the old format until a solution to the problem is found by the channel administration, the Board of Trustees, the Georgian Patriarchate and the Georgian people. The project’s creative group has emphasized its respect for the attitude of the Georgian Patriarchate and its concern over the awkwardness the programme has created in society. It stresses that the entire format of the show, everything from the style and clothes of the hosts and their guests to the design of the studio, had been formulated in the most professional way, and that the programme was educational rather than simply entertainment, a distinction raised in the appeal by the Georgian Patriarchate. Nevertheless, this has not quietened the protestors or the debate the programme has aroused.

The Public Broadcaster and the guests on the most recent edition of the programme have drawn a connection between the position of the Patriarchate, which was silent on the issue when the programme first aired, and the actions of Manana Archvadze, who suggested that the GPB was artificially promoting King David the Builder to the top position instead of her late husband. It implied that the Patriarchate only took an interest in this matter after she complained. However Father Giorgi Zviadadze, Vice-Rector of the Tbilisi Theological Academy, said that the position of the Georgian Orthodox Church had not been prompted by any street rally. He explained that the Georgian Patriarchate does not object to any educational programme, however, “It was not easy for us to start talking about a programme which has already aired on TV but we should state that it is not correct to put the saints in an order of preference. We can talk about knowledge, education, and faith any time but not within the framework of a talk show.”

Father Giorgi continued, “It’s a great sin to use the name of the saints disrespectfully. We should try to avoid such a sin within the format of a TV project. Our attitude toward the saints should be very careful. No one can be distinguished from others. But the project implies exactly this -some will be placed in the top ten and some will not. This is what’s embarrassing.” In response, Irma Sokhadze, a member of the First Channel Board of Trustees, stated that there is no argument between the TV station and the Georgian Patriarchate. “His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II has asked us to think about this project and his word is supreme for us. There’s no use talking about the word pressure. The Patriarch wants the project to continue in its old format but without saints involved. But doing this would create a false image for the young generation. Some important and famous figures would not be included in the list.” Maybe Georgia has exposed an underlying problem in this international format which had simply not come to the surface before. Both sides have a case, but it all depends on how important you believe TV programmes are, another underlying issue in this debate.

Certainly sharp debates were held in the studio on January 16. Davit Paichadze, Head of Journalism at the Tbilisi State University Department of Social and Political Sciences, suggested that the law is superior to the will of the Patriarchate. He encouraged the hosts of the programme and the Board of Trustees to tell everyone their personal opinions on this issue, not simply show respect to His Holiness. “If religion teaches obedience, journalism teaches obstinacy,” he explained. Father Giorgi argued the case for the Church. Gia Chanturia the Deputy General Director of Georgian Public Broadcasting, subsequently told the Messenger: “The project has somehow created a different response among Georgian people, which means we should continue consultations about it with people from different fields. Georgia needs this project. On January 23 the TV show will continue its active consultations will the Board of Trustees. It’s important to determine a format acceptable for everyone by summarizing different approaches.”

All the various sides in this dispute are going to great lengths to support what they love. Levan Kubaneishvili, General Director of Georgian Public Broadcasting, has said “I must confess that I love this project like my own child as it was the first show aired on the renewed First Channel.” Everyone seems to have an agenda based on their idea of what is right. Maybe we know we are in Georgia when the divisions in Georgian society are aroused by a simple TV show.