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02.06.2010 18:34

Media and Elections

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

Elections is the most painful process to replace or maintain high officials in the authorities. It's a civilized way to say no to the one having failed to meet your expectations from one election to another and give a possibility to someone else to show his/her abilities. This process turns everyone into a ruler for a few hours and proves that he/she plays a key role in governing the state. Moreover, elections is the mirror reflecting everything in the best way, e.g. what the people think, their needs, the route and the future it prefers which reveals the work to be done for further elections.

Media is the way to a right choice. It is an eye and ear, tongue and memory of the society. It reflects everything of importance, it poses questions and seeks for answers. Media is the place where voters and the elected talk to one another. Media is the link between two subjects, tool of cooperation. Without media the state is impossible to be developed in a right way. In case of absence of this link and joint governance, if there is a lack of understating between people and the authorities the place of elections is taken up by revolutions.

The countries with intelligent authorities and strong society understand and take it into account. What's the situation like in Georgia in this regard? Let's follow the interim report #2 (4-15 May, 2010) on municipal lections in Georgia published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

"The OSCE/ODIHR EOM's preliminary media monitoring results for the period of 18 April-12 May indicate a lack of balance in the prime-time news coverage of political subjects and candidates on most monitored television channels, with some supporting the government and others the opposition. Only GPB1 has thus far offered its viewers a more balanced picture of the campaign in its prime-time news programs. The very high cost of paid political advertising on main nationwide television channels has limited candidates' possibilities to campaign in the media," reads the report, "A number of OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors also highlighted the lack of transparency regarding media ownership as particularly problematic, as allegedly some state officials might be indirectly linked with some national and local broadcasters."

The USAID-funded project carried out by GPB with the support of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) was truly exemplary. The May 8-9 debates between the Tbilisi mayoral candidates showed how much the society benefits if media provides equal conditions for respondents, allocating equal airtime for presenting themselves as well as for criticizing opponents and the decision on the first and the last  speaker is determined through the casting of lots. In general the review of the political parties' elections programs, even in a scanty way, through Moambe+ revealed that GPB can work this way too.

It is important to pay more attention to television due to the majority of users. Even though "the media environment remains mixed, with a vibrant print media, but increasingly limited television news broadcasting, apparently due to government pressure" (Human Rights Watch report 2008) financial problems disable people to read press actively. The intimacy of relations with print media is still a prerogative of professionals and "gourmands" in the field. The essential part of the society obtains information from television. Reasoning from the aforementioned OSCE/ODIHR EOM's interim report TV media doesn't always treat the society honestly.

"The two by far most popular private television channels, Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV, both of which broadcast nationally, demonstrated their support for the ruling party and its Tbilisi mayoral candidate. Both channels also devoted extensive and favorable coverage to the activities of authorities, outside the campaign context, indirectly benefiting candidates with a pro-government orientation. There was a notable tendency to cover the activities of state officials positively, often pointing out achievements and successes. Appearances of the Tbilisi mayor and government officials in the media coverage of ceremonial events such as openings of new bus lines, sport facilities, or a shopping center, or in activities such as renovation of elevators in Tbilisi (co-financed by the Tbilisi city hall), usually in the presence of UNM candidates, indirectly benefited the UNM campaign."

"Another nationwide broadcaster, Adjara TV, which is owned by the Adjaran regional authorities, adopted a similar approach to that of Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV, and devoted the bulk of its political and election prime-time news coverage to the UNM and activities of the authorities. The local Tbilisi station Real TV has thus far demonstrated a clear bias in favor of the UNM and against the opposition. Local Tbilisi stations Kavkazia TV and TV Maestro, by contrast, have so far served as a platform for the opposition, in particular the Alliance for Georgia. Both channels also criticized the UNM and the authorities," reads the OSCE/ODIHR EOM interim report #2.

One of the most interesting works in favor of the United National Movement and against the opposition was offered to the audience on the May 22 8-o'clock Kronika news outlet on Imedi TV. The TV story by Zura Zhvitiani was titled Pre-election promises and Reality. "What are we being promised - a promise to gain votes or a good economic calculation?" the journalist posed a question to expert Kakha Jakeli but ahead of the response the journalist himself reported that according to the expert "the implementation of the most of promises is either impossible or achievable through ignoring other fields."

Let's follow the TV story. Kakha Jakeli starts his assessment with the promise by the National Council that he considered as most unreal - "free healthcare, education and medicine only in the capital requires GEL 400 mln investment on the annual basis, which is more than half of Tbilisi budget." The statement is followed by Zurab Noghaideli's live speech "we should take funds from defense and police - no more time to rattle arms." The impression to have as a result is as follows: National Council, with the chairmanship of Zurab Noghaideli (having visited Putin and concluded agreement with "Единная Россия") is leveling threats against defense and security of Georgia.

Gogi Topadze follows in the TV story. Journalist says: "Gogi Topadze promises employment for one member in each family. According to the expert it requires the investment of approximately GEL 4 billion which makes the promise impossible to be fulfilled. Topadze's live speech follows: "They keep telling me about a market economy... you know what? The primary duty is thinking about your population, and how to escape impasse." Expert's conclusion: "The employment of 400,000 people is being concerned since that's the number of families in the country. It's an election promise. There can be no other impression - that's just an election promise but in this TV story the expert either doesn't or can't substantiate why it is impossible to be fulfilled.

The following party is Christian-Democratic Movement whose election promises were assessed as relatively realistic. "According to the expert it is possible to decrease prices but it requires cutting funding for other fields of high priority," says the journalist. Here comes Inga Grigolia's live speech: "Unless we start thinking of lower prices it is impossible to think of the development of small and medium businesses." Inga Grigolia's speech is followed by the expert's clarification: "Today the world faces numerous political and military perils and in case one of them actuates in Caucasus and in our country, for instance, the winning party won't be able to maintain prices." Most likely impression: "even in case of victory the party won't be able to fulfill its promises - what has political and military risks got in common with the development of small and medium businesses? Moreover, the expert doesn't specify the correlation between the decrease of prices and military risks.

The program is drawing to a close and Alliance for Georgia takes its turn. "Creation of family and small business fund to employ 50, 000 people at the initial stage - Alliance for Georgia promises its voters free family doctor, insurance and delivery and for particular groups - medicine for free," the journalist reports. Irakli Alasania himself is telling the audience: "We are going to shift these funds from the less needful programs for our city. The expert casts doubts again: "The employment of a single person requires the investment of approximately GEL 12,000. Accordingly the employment of 50,000 people amounts to about 9,7 % of the city budget. The impression is blurred: and what? Really? Who knows...

The TV story comes to an end with an exemplary promise by the United National Movement. "There's still a lot to do" - UNM promises the voters to complete the started activities and kickstart the implementation of new projects," says the journalist. "According to the ruling team their program is based on sound calculations and is today most realistic." No one in the TV story is repeating it but the general statement by the party is backed up by the expert: "Whatever is being done today is the issue of talks and I don't see anything unreal in this promise since we actually have a 24/7 water supply, full gasification, counter installation, road repairs - that's what we see. As regards the triple increase of rural program - if that comes true and Georgia manages to restore agricultural potential it is going to be a good job." What impression can one have? - Them again.

At the very end of the TV story the journalist says the society is going to make a decision at the elections whose promise to trust but it's absolutely incomprehensible what he, as a journalist did to let the society make a right choice. In the course of the program why didn't he pose the questions we had regarding some issues? Why didn't he request the expert to provide better clarification so that the society could be more aware of the situation instead of confusion? For instance, why didn't the prices go down earlier if it was possible? Or was it possible to do something for a lower price? Or what does less needful program mean the opposition parties are going to mobilize funds from? They might have really been of minor priority and the state funds have been irrationally spent. And if these questions were not supposed to be posed where was the subtitle "Paid political advertisement" that would look rather rational in this very case.

It is comprehensible that the addresses of the mpst of questions is the authorities and that can't be otherwise - they shoulder more responsibility and commitment, people entrusted them to govern the state and the budget of the country. In addition specific interest to the activities of the authorities is a good example for those planning to come to power - they should be aware they are not going lack such attention either.

Media is to pose "bitter" questions and seek for answers unless otherwise people are going to have no way leading the country to elections.

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