Fear Has Big Eyes
Lately I got to prepare reports on social issues, take photos and videos, run opinion polls and the like. Didn't expect the work to be so intricate. Seeing a camera or a dictophone people rush away from me. Some courageous ones do talk about problems, share their trouble but without identifying themselves. Almost impossible to record interviews with them.
You must be aware that the number of municipal buses has considerable decreased and few districts with their residents no longer enjoy public transport service. Let alone the drivers made redundant. I decided to cover the topic and ahead of the cancellation of the routes I got on one of those buses. The driver that was most likely made redundant after the conversation with me said the main of source of income for his five-member family is his salary and he was puzzled how he was going to support the family further on. The driver neither identified himself nor allowed me to take a photo. "I don't want extra problems," he said shortly. I got the same answer from around ten drivers I talked to on the day.
Passengers at the bus stops were protesting a new traffic plan. In this case too I hardly managed to make five people agree to grant interviews.
You are surely informed of new state standards for the car window tint. The driver disobeying the new law will be imposed a penalty of GEL 50. While there are so many cars in the city with factory tint which are now inadherent to our standards...
The replacement of the windows of the kind will cost the car owners a fortune. I expected drivers to talk to me, as a journalist, over the issue in an open way, but I was wrong. It took me about two hours to obtain comments from few drivers. The absolute majority of the drivers I asked for the interview didn't want to speak in front of the camera, neither identified themselves.
One of the Tbilisi residents I talked to when driving by bus said he and his neighbor submitted an application to the City Hall requesting the authorities to maintain one of the city bus routes. As soon as I asked for his name, he got silent. I tried to explain hiding his name made no sense since he had signed the application submitted to the City Hall and the one willing to cause him trouble would anyway do that after reading the interview. But even my iron-like reasoning didn't work.
Following a tense and often irritating working day I wonder why ordinary citizens avoid talking to journalists and refuse to identify themselves.
Why should the bus driver, being dead sure of losing his job from the following day, find it difficult to talk about his problems? Or why is the car owner unwilling to speak out that changing tint windows is going to be a considerable load for his budget? Do they think they are going to be held responsible? Arrested? Or they fear for journalists more than the authorities? - they are being careful with having their interviews misinterpreted or distorted.
I don't know - can find no answer to that.
P.S. fear has big eyes, they say. But I know that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.