"Role of local media in Georgia's political, public and cultural development is irreplaceable" - U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Bass said, who visited Association of Regional Media of Georgia on May 21.
The Ambassador was interested in the work of the Association and problems encountered by the member newspapers; Mr. Bass heard the opinions of the publishers in connection with the media environment existing prior to 2010 local elections. Representatives of newspapers who took part in the meeting informed the honorable guest about the concrete facts and problematic circumstances whose analysis can lead to defining the general trends.
Mr. Ambassador spoke about the especially important role that media, especially regional newspapers and other media outlets, play in Georgia's political, public and cultural development.
- "It was very pleasant and important for me to know that Mr. Ambassador, who is a former journalist of a regional newspaper, fully realizes what great responsibility and civil burden a journalist has to bear when he or she takes immense risks and prepares critical materials and articles in a small society - district or municipality; his only "salvation" is impartiality, fairness and provision of firm argumentation of a fact and event. Mr. Ambassador spoke about the dangers that are associated with asking hard questions and strict monitoring of government activities especially when dealing with expenditures of budget resources and use of administrative resources. The 2 hour meeting was more like an exchange of opinions between colleagues rather than an official meeting regulated by a protocol" - organizer of the meeting, Head of Association of Regional Media of Georgia Ia Mamaladze says, "we were promised by the Ambassador and we're sure that it will be so that the meetings, exchange of opinions, direct contacts between us will become even more intense".
Publishers and editors of the following regional newspapers: Tavisupali Sitkva, Mtavari Samegreloshi (Samegrelo region); Kakhetis Khma, Spektri (Kakheti region); Akhali Gazeti, Chemi Kharagauli, Tkibulis Droit (Imereti region); Khalkhis Gazeti, Kartlis Khma (Shida Kartli region); Borjomi (Samtskhe-Javakheti region); Guria News, Lanchkhuti Plus, Alioni (Guria region) took part in the meeting and shared their opinions with the U.S. Ambassador.
At the end of the meeting Mr. John Bass gave interview to the member newspapers and took photos with the editors and publishers. Here's the abovementioned interview:
Mr. Ambassador, we all know that on May 17 U.S. President Barack Obama signed a Freedom of the Press Act intended to promote a free press around the world and the Act was dedicated to memory of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. According to President, that legislation will promote more press freedom in the world, can that move give hope to Georgian journalists as well?
We will of course continue supporting practical implementation of press freedom and its principles in Georgia, because we believe that it's an important part of Georgian culture. We've been supporting free media in Georgia for many years through all those different programs that we're still implementing. It was manifested also in cooperation between U.S. Embassy in Georgia and various journalists and professional organizations. I promise you that this cooperation will continue in future as well.
You're familiar with the problems connected with press freedom in Georgia. You are aware that journalists' rights are often flagrantly violated and it's manifested in physical abuse, refusal to provide public information and unfair competition. Journalists working in regions encounter many problems. Are you planning to take concrete steps in order to support regional media in Georgia?
As you know U.S. Embassy is implementing several grant programs among which I'd underline Democracy Committee grant program. We had a deadline last month before which various organizations including representatives of regional media could submit their applications to us. As I know media outlets representing various regions of the country seized that opportunity and we received quite a lot of applications. To tell you the truth I haven't studied those documents thoroughly, but I know that there are a lot of regional media outlets among the applicants. After we study those applications we'll make corresponding decisions.
We'll continue supporting media in Georgia with other means as well; besides allocation of grants, we'll support growth of mass media outlets' functional capacities as well as increasing journalists' professionalism at the educational level.
- Taking into account the level of development of Georgian media and quality of freedom of speech, how objectively do you think the campaigns of various political candidates are being covered? Are the parties taking part in the election given equal opportunities?
- As far as coverage of individual candidates' election campaigns is concerned it's better to ask this question to the organizations that are conducting detailed media monitoring. However, I can share my personal impressions with you: it must be noted that there are positive changes in coverage of pre-election campaign in Georgian media. The launching of second channel of Georgian Public Broadcasting is one example of that. However, in order to make the work of the second channel more effective it should cover the whole territory of Georgia. Other nation-wide TV channels also cover the campaigns of candidates, which gives the public opportunity to learn about the different programs of different political entities. When speaking about any media outlets, it should be noted that it would be very beneficial for both mass media and Georgian public if the media representatives would use more analysis and criticism when covering the statements made by the candidates. Journalists must show the public how logical or illogical the candidates' promises are and whether there are real opportunities of fulfilling those promises. In order for the voters to receive full information about the political entities taking part in the elections, the media outlets should demonstrate the candidate's activities in the present as well as his past experience and the program with which the candidate approaches the voters.