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17.06.2010 11:37

On the Basis of Ethnicity

David Mchedlidze
Media Discusions

Media Development Fund conducted monitoring of Georgian-language media outlets this year, the monitoring aimed at establishing how the issues concerning ethnic and religious minorities were covered by those media outlets. At the same time Media Development Fund also surveyed the representatives of ethnic minorities in order to find out how they viewed the coverage of issues concerning ethnic and religious minorities in Georgian-language media outlets. The project was conducted under the program of United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG) and Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), the program was titled National Integration and Tolerance in Georgia, which was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The monitoring was carried out in January-March 2010. During those three months the organization monitored the newscasts of the following TV channels: First Channel of Georgian Public Broadcasting, Rustavi 2, Imedi, Maestro and Kavkasia; besides Media Development Fund monitored the articles published in the following newspapers: 24 Saati, Resonance, Akhali Taoba, Alia, Asaval-Dasavali, Kviris Palitra, The Georgian Times, P.S., Akhali Gazeti (Kutaisi), Samkhretis Karibche (Akhaltsikhe), Kakhetis Khma (Kakheti), Tavisupali Sitkva (Kartli), Batumelebi (Adjara), Ghia Boklomi (Samegrelo) and Guria News (Gurai).

During the monitoring period the ethnic and religious minorities were covered 147 times, 126 of stories (articles) concerned ethnic minorities. Out of those 126 stories (articles) 41 were in violation of journalism standards, 85 stories (articles) were in accordance with journalism standards. Most of the stories that were in violation of journalism standards were published in print media. One example of such coverage was article titled "Why are the Chinese Pulling Our Leg?" (№10, 14, 21-28.01.10) which included the following phrase: "Don't buy anything from the "squint-eyed" unless you learn the product's real price".

According to the report, the story or article is violating journalism standards if: discriminatory, insulting and xenophobic terms are used, discriminative attitude is shown when covering crime stories and certain groups are stereotyped. Stereotypes, prejudices, using of minorities as objects rather than subjects of the story; discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, propagation of discriminatory statements, usage of insulting expressions, generalization and presentation of minorities as one single group - all of these actions constitute violation of journalism standards.

That monitoring gives us general idea about how the Georgian media covers the minorities. But in order to get the full picture it's necessary to know how the representatives of ethnic minorities perceive the way they are represented in the media. Some answers are provided by the second survey conducted under the abovementioned project. Media Development Fund polled three focus groups in Akhaltsikhe (comprised of ethnic Armenians), Marneuli (comprised of ethnic Azerbaijanis) and Tbilisi (comprised of ethnic Russians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Ukrainians, Ossetians, Jews and Kurds).

According to the research, the representatives of the ethnic minorities showed the following attitudes towards the media: issues concerning ethnic minorities are covered in a haphazard and fragmentary manner by media; journalists are often interested in certain dramatic facts and they rarely show any interest in successes of representatives of ethnic minorities; media often features materials that are based on prejudices rather than analysis of the events; insults leveled at ethnic minorities are often used; everyday, cultural life of ethnic minorities as well as their historic materials, social problems and holidays are not covered regularly; both Armenian and Azerbaijani ethnic groups can't understand Georgian-language news programs, the language used in Georgian Public Broadcasting's newscasts intended for ethnic minorities is incomprehensible for the ethnic minorities and therefore they don't have any viewers.

Recommendations that the representatives of the ethnic minorities have based on the abovementioned concerns are as follows: media must cover topics more deeply and substantially; when covering the issues concerning ethnic minorities media must analyze how accurate the news they're about to cover is, how necessary it is to cover the news and decide what results such news can cause in the so called "difficult" regions; media should not play the role of a "provocateur" even when the provocative statements are made by respondents and not the journalists themselves. The media outlets must select more tactful ways of conveying news; media outlets should pay more attention to everyday lives of ethnic groups, their traditions, their adaptability with local environment and not the conflicts; media should pay more attention to coverage of situation/problems in Abkhazia's conflict zones as viewers often doubt the objectivity of the broadcast stories.

Practically all the points in the abovementioned list of recommendations can be included in the list of general requirements that media has to fulfill. Substantial coverage of an issue and ascertaining its accuracy are the most important tasks in any journalism activity. Besides, realization of what can be the result of discussion of certain topics in certain (not only "difficult") regions is also very important. Of course it doesn't mean that the journalist must hide an important piece of news. Of course media should not play the role of a "provocateur" and that should be part of editorial policy of any media outlet. Media should pay more attention to the issue of adaptation of ethnic groups (as well as any other groups) in the state. At the same time media must not refrain from covering important conflicts just because those conflicts concern ethnic groups.

That short analysis shows that we're not dealing with any kind of "obsession" but with low level of professionalism among the journalists on the one hand and with suspicious attitude that ethnic minorities have towards individuals, society and the state as far as attitudes towards them (ethnic minorities) are concerned on the other hand. That suspicious attitude is not groundless. Unfortunately slogans like "Georgia only for Georgians" were voiced in our country; however, quite a long period of time has passed since then for the ethnic minorities to self-identify themselves in the state whose citizens they are. That's what media should be focusing on.

The part of the project of Media Development Fund that researches the views of ethnic minorities surveys what's already on surface.

A more thorough research on where and how the ethnic minorities view themselves was conducted in 2007 by Horizon Foundation. The goal of that survey was to define the needs of ethnic minorities living in Georgia and learn their opinions on their farther integration into the country's social, economic and political life. The survey was conducted in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti and Tbilisi. Ethnic Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Ossetians, Kists, Ukrainians, Avars, Russians, Kurds, Poles and Assyrians took part in the survey.

During the survey 51.9% of the polled said closer relations between various ethnic groups were desirable, 42.4% said it was necessary and 5.7% said it wasn't necessary; 17.5% of the polled said they had no contacts with Georgian population. 60.8% of the respondents said they were not involved in political and public processes taking part in Georgia and 28.8% of them had no wish to be involved in those processes. 83.7% of them were not involved in the work of local self-government bodies and 45.7% of them had no wish to be involved in those activities. 82.8% of the respondents were not involved in the activities of nongovernmental organizations and 44.2% of them had no such wish. 24% of the respondents had full command of Georgian - the state language of Georgia, 28.6% of the respondents had poor reading and writing skills in Georgian and 23.2% said they comprehended Georgian but couldn't speak, read or write that language.

These data are especially important as knowledge of the state language is an absolute must for complete integration of ethnic minorities and the respondents were aware of that. 72% of them said they wished to learn Georgian better. For 40% of them it was the means of finding employment and establishing relations with Georgian population and for 23% of them it was necessary for education. At the same time the great majority of the respondents had a positive attitude towards joint activities of various ethnic groups, they also noted that they had nothing against their children going to school together with the children from other ethnic groups.

According to the survey, 17.9% of the polled had no wish to study Georgian (10.1% didn't answer that question at all). That is an important factor because if a person doesn't speak the state language his employment options are very limited and that is a violation of his rights. That poses important problems as far as social adaptation of such people is concerned.

Needs of ethnic minorities indicated in the Horizon Foundation's research are the factors that need to be taken into consideration by Georgian media, let alone the necessity of meeting general journalism standards. Whether Georgian media takes into account these needs can be judged by the results of the research conducted by Media Development Fund.

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