On May 21, parliamentary elections will be held in Georgia.
In 2013, Georgia will have presidential elections.
Recently, the EU’s Ambassador to Georgia Philip Dimitrov noted the importance of an objective highlighting of pre-election campaigns in the media.
However, there are strong doubts that the pre-election campaigns in Georgia will be highlighted really objectively by the local media, because, in practice, all the media in Georgia is owned by the state.
When Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili meets with a European or a US politician, he never misses a chance to tell him or her about how all spheres of life in Georgia are becoming more and more democratic. However, there can be no democracy without freedom of speech – and there are many grounds to doubt that this basic freedom is really observed in Georgia.
In fact, at present, there are only two TV channels in Georgia – “Maestro” and “Caucasia,” which can be called more or less independent. All the others are, in fact, either owned or controlled by the state.
Georgian political analyst Alexander Chachiya says:
“There are many TV channels in Georgia, which, officially, are owned by private individuals. But, in fact, these individuals are closely linked with the country’s authorities, and these channels are toughly controlled by the state.”
About one half of Georgia’s population live in rural areas. The majority of them, in fact, can watch only three TV channels, all of which are state-owned. To watch “Maestro” in a rural area, one needs a satellite antenna. As for “Caucasian,” it can be watched exclusively on the web. However, for many Georgians, especially for farmers, a computer is a luxury, to say nothing of an entry to the web.
With newspapers, the situation, at first sight, seems to be a little better. However, the majority of free newspapers in Georgia are, as a rule, tabloids – although there are still some newspapers, as well as some websites, where one may read a free opinion of a serious analyst.
Saakashvili’s “democratic” regime doesn’t use the old methods of direct orders or censorship to control the media. It tries to find more intricate ways. Today, the world is ruled by money, and, for a newspaper or a magazine to flourish, it has to publish advertisements from rich sponsors. But in Georgia, large companies often receive instructions from the government not to publish ads in opposition editions.
At present, the easiest way for the Georgian opposition or independent observers to express their views to the public is through the web.
“As a rare example of a newspaper where the Georgian opposition, or just people who disagree with the authorities upon a certain point, can freely express their views, I would name the weekly “Georgia and the World,” Alexander Chachiya says. “This newspaper was founded by people of various political convictions, who united just to have a media edition where they would have an opportunity to openly say what they think. The newspaper also has a website, where it publishes materials in 3 languages – Georgian, Russian and English.”
However, the Georgian authorities seem to be inexhaustible in inventing new ways to infringe the freedom of speech. At present, one can buy a newspaper in the Georgian capital Tbilisi only in kiosks which are owned by the city’s Mayor’s office – and these kiosks prefer not to deal with opposition editions.