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Fake news programme remains top discussion topic in Georgia

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, March 16
The Imedi TV hoax news report of a Russian invasion late on Saturday was strongly criticised by politicians and analysts on Monday. The show was made in an “unacceptable” manner, Georgian Parliament Speaker David Bakradze said on March 15.

Imedi aired its simulated news programme as part of talk show Special Report on March 13, saying it portrayed the events of June 7, 2010. After a brief introduction by the show’s anchor, who told viewers that the TV Company would show a possible development of events in Georgia the news programme Kronika began, informing the audience that the opposition, after being defeated at the elections, had begun a mutiny and Russia had taken advantage of the situation and annexed the whole country with the help of some opposition leaders. The fake news programme caused panic and then public anger in Georgia.

“We all understand that the situation in Georgia in terms of external threats is not easy, but I want to state that producing this report, with such form and content, in the way it was done is categorically unacceptable,” Bakradze stated at a bureau session “It is unacceptable to create a report with a form and content which shocks the public, scares investors and humiliates the Georgian Army,” Bakradze added. He called on journalists to show “more responsibility” and “less radicalism”.

US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass also criticised the hoax report for being “irresponsible” and “not in keeping with the standards of professional journalism.” Speaking on the Georgian Public Broadcaster talk show Accents, the Ambassador said that the report was alarming and disturbing for people who did not know if it was fact or fiction. He suggested that the simulated report does not help Georgia face its real security threats.

The worries of the international community about the simulated news programme are justified, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said. Speaking at the traditional Monday media briefing, Kalandadze said that the Foreign Ministry is not entitled to evaluate the report, as “Imedi is an independent TV Company.” “A state body cannot make any positive or negative comments on this issue. For me personally it was alarming. The public protest is absolutely justified, as are the worries expressed by the international community,” Kalandadze said, adding that the international community would “objectively” assess the incident and “would not see the state’s participation in making this report.”

The report triggered criticism from Russian officials as well. The hoax report about a Russian invasion of Georgia is part of the “information war” being conducted by the Georgian authorities, Russia’s permanent representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said on Sunday, RIA Novosti reported. Rogozin called the simulated news programme a “huge provocation”, “part of the state propaganda aimed at preparing the minds of the Georgian people for a new war.” The Georgian President's attempts to “distance” himself from the Imedi report are “not serious”, Rogozin told TV company Russia Today. “We know for sure that this channel is being controlled by the Georgian authorities and it is unlikely that Saakashvili did not know about the planned report,” he said, suggesting that the hoax report was not a single action, but a part of a plan aimed at preparing Georgia for new military conflicts in the Caucasus.

De facto South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity meanwhile demanded that the simulated news programme be discussed at the next round of Geneva talks. “I think we should hear the opinion of the EU and those mediators who have committed to regulating the Georgian-Ossetian conflict on this,” the de facto President said. “In any case such jokes and provocations will not help to increase the level of trust between the states,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

The family of late Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, the founder and former owner of Imedi TV, also slammed the authorities for airing the hoax report. The simulated news programme is yet more proof of the fact that in the hands of the Government the channel has become an instrument of “propaganda and intimidation,” a statement released by Patarkatsishvili’s family on Monday read. “We demand that the channel is immediately returned to our family, because we have a will and power to really restore Imedi, so that it serves the public and justify the authority that it still carries,” it continued.

Despite widespread criticism, General Director of Imedi TV Giorgi Arveladze has said he is not planning to quit his position or fire any of his staff over the panic and anger caused by the simulated news programme. “I am not going to point the finger at someone or blame anybody. First of all it is me who is responsible for what goes on at this TV channel,” Arveladze noted, live on GPB show Accents. “If the simulated Kronika programme has created a deficit of trust between the public and the TV company, I and the Imedi TV management will do everything to restore it,” he added. Arveladze said he will be able to restore public trust towards Imedi in his current position. “Thus, I do not consider making any staff changes or offering my resignation,” he said, adding that the hoax report’s aim was not to scare the public, but to warn about possible threats to the country.

Some opposition politicians have downplayed Arveladze’s statement, saying that he is merely trying to “shift responsibility” from the “real” author of the fake report. Koba Davitashvili of the People’s Party suggested that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was the “genuine author” of the simulated Kronika, while Giorgi Arveladze was “only an executor”. “Saakashvili is the one who ordered this report and first of all he should bear responsibility for this,” Davitashvili stated. President Saakashvili criticised the authors of the report on Sunday for not making it sufficiently clear that the programme was a simulation, however he said the hoax report was “maximally close” to the possible development of events in Georgia.