As soon as my business trip from Tbilisi to Poti was confirmed I started surfing the net to glean some info about the city. Wherever I came across the official name of the city it was titled as "a self-governing city."
Self-governing City Poti
It's six a.m. and I am already at Poti railway station. The city with the main port connecting Europe with Asia has been recently recognized as a free industrial zone.
A small light bulb is illuminating the railway station. I reached the taxi trough a muddy path. I immediately got several pieces of useful information from the taxi driver: "Ahead of checking in the hotel get some bottled water, tap water is not drinkable." The head of the local TV channel recommended me the same. Later I found out water, unsuitable for drinking, is available for two hours only once per three days. GEL 27 mil apportioned for the repair works of the water system was, according to the locals, "flown away by water". No pipes for natural gas have been installed in the city. "There was a gap in the local budget for the recent year. The local authorities constantly ask for help from the central government," another piece of information about Poti provided by the local journalist. We reached the hotel through a destroyed road. From the very dawn my illusions about a developed seaside city with palms, declared as an industrial zone, were dispelled.
TV Company Vs Radio
There is the only TV company functioning in Poti. Ninth Wave has been broadcasting in Poti and adjacent regions since 2000. TV signal can easily reach Abkhazian cities. The broadcast starts at 8 a.m. and ends by midnight. The company airs a 20-minute news Kursor outlet once per day. In addition the TV air is filled with musical SMS show and feature films in the Russian language. Programs, including youth talk show, kid's program and sports talk show, funded by international funds are being aired on a weekly basis. Years ago, within the election period the channel constantly aired political debates the TV company is going to resume this year.
"We are in financial difficulties. International shipping companies, the port and terminals need no advertising through the local TV. In addition due to the financial crisis everybody has been cut income including local businessmen advertising through us. And the branches of big companies have no budget for advertising. Their central headquarters prefer advertising through national TV channels," said Gia Salia, head of the Ninth Wave.
The TV company has got several camera crews including the one in the town of Khobi. Through barter advertising the TV company has got a free taxi within the city.
The TV company and informational-musical radio Harmony, founded in 1997 in Poti, has got the common building, the common owner and the common information service. In 2002 the radio was purchased by the Ninth Wave. The news outlet is aired once per hour. Approximately three hours on a daily basis is dedicated to the radio Liberty programming and news outlets.
From September, owing to the funding by the Open Society Georgia Foundation, the radio has been broadcasting a weekly program as well as a radio magazine Whole Week. Harmony is one of the founders of the Georgian Regional Radio Network. According to the radio management the overreaching goal of the network was to create a common advertising and information space.
Following the interviews it was time to look around the TV office. There is no central heating in the building. The TV management and journalists warm up at the wood stove. It's cold in the studio too. I have been told some national TV studios would envy of it. The company managed to purchase the studio owing to the support by international organizations. Notwithstanding the age of the technical equipments journalists and editors can swimmingly produce programmes.
Four newspapers such as the Mtavari Samegreloshi (main in Samegrelo), Nikoladzis Gzit (through Nikoladze's way), Tavisufali Sitkva (free speech) and the Timeout come out in Poti. Few years ago the number of newspaper topped 15. The Resume is among the ones having been closed down. Its edition was suspended in spring 2009. The newspaper was launched in Poti in 2003. From 2005 journalist Lasha Zarginava was the editor-in-chief of the paper. According to him the August war and the financial crisis is the main reason of closing the newspaper down.
Inga Gvasalia, Editor-in-chief of the Mtavari Samegreloshi is discussing the financial problems too. Only five journalists work for her editorial office. Four out of five are transferred to four different towns in Samgerelo region. "I work as a journalist and editor in Poti. I am the only one working here," Gvasalia said. Due to financial problems journalist cannot often travel to the adjacent towns to cover news. The newspaper has been coming out for over 12 years now. According to Inga Gvasalia being the member of Georgian late tycoon Badri Patarakatsishvili's media holding was the most prosperous period for the newspaper. Following the breakup of the media holding the newspaper faced hardship. From time to time even the periodicity of the edition is being disordered. The circulation of the newspaper ranges from 500 to 1,000. The newspaper costing 50 Georgian Tetri is being disseminated in all the towns in Samegrelo region. The newspaper manager too complains about the lack of advertising. Subscribers is the main hope. Due to no publishing house in Poti the newspapers are mainly published in the Kutaisi-based ones.
According to journalist Lasha Zarginava quality knowledge of media management remains as the main problem in the regional media. From his viewpoint that's the main reason of the closure of newspapers in the recent years.
"Ahead of the Rose Revolution and after we were to work in horrible conditions. The journalists were forced out of different public sittings, we were asked for passes at the City Hall entrance, our professional activity was being hindered," Tea Absardze, head of the Ninth Wave information service recollected. She has been working for the TV company since the day of its foundation.
According to Lasha Zarginava they still face problems. Sakrebulo sittings are sometimes held in secrecy from journalists, the date and time of the event is being posted somewhere under the staircase with a delay and afterwards they have complaints against us. Post-war months were neither easy to work within, he said, when the representatives of the Ministry of Security hindered his professional activity. Threats were being leveled too.
"Obtaining information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs is the hardest task. Whenever we go to the local department we are told to appeal to the press center of the Ministry. They do complicate our work far too much," Inga Gvasalia stresed.
Acting journalists frequent various free training courses. As regards the beginners some of them, including radio presenters, quit their work for better job offers. Payment for TV journalists in Poti is miserable. "Few months ago the contest for journalists was announced, no single applicant appeared," Inga Gvasalia reported. Sometimes the ones interested in being a cameraman or journalist go to the TV company voluntarily.
None of the media outlets, except the Tavisufali Sitkva, has got a Website. They neither use social networks to distribute the production. They are planning to take serious steps in this regard in the near future. Everybody wants to launch a website but cannot afford due to financial issues.
At the Newsagent's
After having visited the editorial offices I decided to wander around the newsagent's. I found it difficult. Almost all of them are located at the market and the auto station. The show window displayed only Russian-language ('Podruga,' crosswords, etc) and Tbilisi-based press. I asked for the reason.
- "Poti-based newspapers are delivered only five days a week. Sometimes they are sold, sometimes not. There is a good sale in case the newspaper covers the events related to somebody's relative or acquaintance. But in general people do not read much," an old newsagent responded.
- Do you know why?
- People are more interested in the newspapers delivered from Tbilisi, they learn a lot of things. I sell 7-0-80 Kviris Palitra (Georgian weekly) per week.
I was told almost the same by another newsagent in front of the market.
Saying good-bye to the newsagent I bought some local newspapers. The newsagent took the newspapers out of the counter. Later I found out I had been given the editions of previous months. In the evening, having packed my luggage, I called the taxi. Energizing Megrelian melodies were heard through the radio.