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26.10.2009 21:30

Georgian Service of Voice of America Doubles Its Airtime

David Mchedlidze
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As early as in April 2007 influential US congressmen were trying to convince the representatives of President Bush's Administration to reverse the decision to cut the budget for Voice of America, because that proposal of US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) would stop broadcasting of all English-language radio programs aired by Voice of America except for the programs intended for African listeners.

According to another recommendation made by BBG at the time, which eventually was included in the budget of US Administration, the radio programs of Voice of America broadcast in Georgian and Uzbek languages were to be stopped from 2008; however, the events of November 2007 and 2008 Russian-Georgian war quickly changed the fate of Georgian service of Voice of America, especially after the war. The Georgian radio programs of Voice of America became one hour programs instead of half an hour ones and from financial year of 2009 the airtime will increase up to 2 hours. Georgian service of Voice of America is now expecting interesting changes, Ana Kalandadze, Head of Georgian Service of Voice of America, speaks about those changes.

- Georgia fell under international scrutiny and US Broadcasting Board of Governors decided to increase our funding, as a result the funds allocated for us from the President's budget have significantly increased, which of course implies more work and airtime. It seems while making that decision they took into account both the level of democracy in Georgia and the immense challenges that Georgia faces in its foreign policies, I'm talking about Russian-Georgian war and its results. Everyone regarded these circumstances as insurmountable danger and correspondingly they decided that American government must stay in Georgia as a broadcaster. If Georgian government and local partners wish it, Voice of America will continue to work for Georgian listeners. Extension of our broadcasting will depend on the results of negotiations with government and Georgian radio stations. We need thorough negotiations; we wish to be represented in Georgia not only with radio programs but with TV programs as well.

- Does Voice of America plan to produce TV programs too?

- It's our desire to produce TV programs too; however, that issue will become clearer after we conduct special research.

- rograms of Voice of America are aired by 1st channel of Georgian Radio, what other media outlets are you going to conduct negotiations with?

- e haven't decided it yet. It will depend on the results of the research, we must find out whether Georgian audience is ready to watch TV programs of Voice of America, we must find out whether they prefer TV or radio, we have already got preliminary results and it seems that people tend to watch TV more. We must also find out what topics and programs Georgian public is interested in and after that we'll decide everything. As far as I know we're going to start negotiations with Imedi TV station; however, we're also going to negotiate with other radio stations as well.

- hen will the final results of the research become known?

-  very large-scale research is being carried out and it entails quite a big amount of work. We believe that process will be over by the end of this year.

- And probably you will have a new set of programs?

- Yes, that's also a part of research; however, after so many years of broadcasting we more or less know what Georgian listeners are interested int. They like the details of everyday American life very much, they're very much interested in American government's opinion on the events unfolding in Georgia, they want to know experts' opinions and their analysis. We'll have a rubric for youth.

-How many correspondents are you going to employ?

- We'll have one journalist in New York, we'll also have correspondents in Brussels and Paris as well as Moscow. At the moment if something important happens in New York we either go there or learn the news through phone, we're going to have correspondent there in order to avoid it in future. We also have two correspondents in Georgia, it's quite enough for our one hour airtime.

- Can you speak more about the war days? How were you working during that period?

- We had a lot of work, they were planning to shut the radio on September 30, but on August 8 we were told that the program wouldn't be closed, on the contrary it was going to be an hour program instead of 30 minutes. We were really tense during the war as people as journalists. We had to prepare stories that wouldn't be accessible for Georgian listeners elsewhere; in particular we had to get interviews with American experts, government officials and ordinary people.

- With the increased airtime your work schedule will probably be changed too, what is a usual day for the head of Georgian service of Voice of America now?

- I come to work at 7 a.m. and check who did what and how, after that I start checking the scripts that my colleagues must record for radio. Then I contact our Georgian correspondents and coordinate the topics, after that I get prepared for the morning meeting with other representatives of the Division (I'm talking about the meeting of directors of Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Uzbek and Kurdish services, where we exchange information about the day's events). Then I have a very short time left for working on my own materials because I'm on air almost every day. I check the sound level of the received materials, I read foreign press concerning American, Georgian and world news. At 11:30 a live program starts. During the second half of the day I work on Georgian webpage of Voice of America or tell somebody else to do it, I attend a lot of administrative meetings, learn the current news, we go out for meetings in the city (US Congress, research organizations, universities) for covering the topics that are important for us.

- You were awarded a prize this year…

- Annual prize is given to the employees of the radio station who played significant role in ensuring Voice of America's success. The prizes were not awarded for a few years, but they resumed that tradition this year. I graduated from the local university; I started to work in the radio 10 years ago as intern, that's why winning that award was a very emotional moment for me.

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