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29.01.2010 21:34

Russian-language Media for non-English-speaking Caucasus

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

Ahead of the August 2008 war the information policy of the Georgian authorities was mainly oriented on the English-speaking audience. Excited comments by President Mikheil Saakashvili were aired almost every week through CNN or BBC and the Georgian national channels kept on re-broadcasting aforementioned shots as well as any TV speech by him. But it is also noteworthy that the authorities worked on the non-English-speaking society too, for instance small in number but politically highly important segment such as the Ossetian part of Tskhinvali region.

The Georgian authorities counteracted the disinformation flowing from the North with the Russian-language Alania TV but the latter, due to technical reasons and bare propaganda turned out futile and low-grade. It failed to win the public reliance and the authorities didn't go further.

In addition due to the hostility on the edge of war almost no free information was being disseminated in the region. Even a part of ethnic Ossetians speaking Georgian received filtered information through Georgian national TV channels. Alternative ways of information such as Internet or NGOs couldn't affect the general situation much.

During the August war 2008 Russia blocked Georgian governmental or independent information Websites and Georgian policy makers were to get through the information blockade with scarce resources. The West: Europe and the United States were of course the main target.

A year and a half has passed since the Georgian-Russian war the Georgian authorities have seemingly realized better that in addition to the English-speaking world a non-English-speaking audience is important too. The Russian-language First Caucasian launched on the basis of the Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB), for the time being broadcasting through the Internet and cable network, is clear evidence.

From January 15 to 28 the Russian-language channel used to broadcast through the satellite in line with the agreement concluded with the French Eutelsat. But on January 28 the satellite broadcasting went off the air. According to Zurab Dvali, General Producer, First Caucasian's disconnection from the French satellite could be the result of the pressure by Russia.

First Caucasian is regarded, in Georgia as well as in Russia, as a part of the policy and propaganda by the Georgian authorities

On January 14 the Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkadii Edelev labeled the channel as a Georgian propagandistic machine and extremist ideology carrier. He casted doubts the television is being financed by the American side.

According to Zurab Dvali the TV website has got 40-45,000 daily visitors out of Georgia only.

"We do not serve to the propaganda, anti-Russian campaign we are being accused of. We are a Georgian channel but a Russian-language one and we would like to provide the audience with our stance in regard to the events ongoing in Georgia and around it. When a new alternative source of information appears it is irritating to Russia. The latter prefers to be an absolute monopolist and provide everyone with its vision," said Zurab Dvali reporting to Media.ge. The target audience, from his viewpoint, is ethnic minorities and North and South Caucasus population never being reached by genuine information.

The Caucasian audience is provided news outlets four times per day and up to 30 people work on its production. News outlets include world news and the events ongoing in Georgia and South Caucasus countries.

According to Ekaterine Kotrikadze, head of TV news service the North Caucasian events enjoy a priority in this regard.

"This topic is almost closed and is least covered, one can come across something on the Internet. We would like our television to be unbiased and tell the truth on whatever is going on there," said Ekaterine Kotrikadze.

First Caucasian has already got journalists to collaborate with but with the view of security they are not identified.

In addition to news so far First Caucasian has got seven programmes. Up to ten programmes are expected to be added till summer. The main goal of the channel is covering the problems Georgia and the whole of South Caucasus faces, the history of the country and future prospective.

"We failed to properly make the world see our truth, stance, vision of various processes.  Embassies are working in this direction, the do conduct some activities but the whole information about Georgia is being disseminated mainly through Russian channels in Russia, the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and the rest of the Russian-speaking world," said Zurab Dvali having clarified that the information vacuum should be filled up by First Caucasian. The TV management has promised the audience unbiased and high-quality production.

Instable but geopolitically important Caucasus has always been of interest to international media and their concern increased gradually alongside with the aggravation of conflicts but the international media covers events for international audience while the population in the breakaway territories remain in captivity of one-sided or multi-sided propaganda but radio Liberty is trying to rectify the situation.

Early in November 2009 the Georgian service of the radio station launched a Russian-language Ekho Kavkaza (echo of Caucasus). News about Georgia and Caucasus region are being posted on www.ekhokavkaza.com. According to David Kakabadze, head of the radio Liberty Georgian service the number of daily website users ranges from 600 to 1,000. Ekho Kavkaza, in addition to the rest of Georgia, is heard in Abkhazia and the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.

"No propaganda! It's news broadcasting. Our goal is not convincing anyone of anything! We just provide information timely, in an unbiased and objective way," David Kakabadze stressed.

Persuading Abkhazian and Ossetian colleagues for collaboration turned out the hardest part. There was a fear for problems expected to be posed by the local authorities. They thought the radio cooperated with the Georgian authorities. Therefore the majority of journalists refused to take part in the processes contradictory to their principles. But eventually some of them agreed on cooperation with the Georgian service of radio Liberty. The main principle of the radio is adherence to international norms but when making reports the journalists from Abkhazia and Ossetia often apply the terminology typical to them. But in this regard the radio management made a concession since the provision of information is far more important than the way the local journalists call South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

According to Kakabadze the Growing interested into Caucasus is due to the expansion of importance of the region in terms of transit routs.

"Now it's evident how important it is when you are not dependent on Russia. Stability in North Caucasus - Ingushia, Dagestan is also needful. Stability is important to Russia too. Information and being informed is the main element of stability," said David Kakabadze. Therefore more means of media get concerned about Caucasus and try to provide further information to the audience.

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