Arab Today, arab today georgia\s tv stations face propaganda claims
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Georgia\'s TV stations face propaganda claims

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Arab Today, arab today Georgia\'s TV stations face propaganda claims

Washington - AFP

When newscasters on Georgia\'s three main TV channels read out almost identical reports on a controversial death in custody case this month, critics alleged the government was dictating their scripts. The incident renewed speculation that the authorities influence reporting on sensitive topics by the state broadcaster and the top two private nationwide stations which are the main sources of news in the small ex-Soviet republic. \"The coordinated news coverage is a strong indication for a lack of editorial independence of the country\'s major broadcasters,\" watchdog group Transparency International Georgia said on its website. There were furious reactions when videos of all three newscasts about the death of Solomon Kimeridze -- who police said died after falling downstairs while in custody in the provincial town of Khashuri -- were juxtaposed on YouTube. \"A democratic state cannot be built with such media,\" said one comment posted on YouTube, while others condemned the journalists involved as \"prostitutes\" and \"zombies\". The interior ministry insisted however that it was \"absolutely impossible\" for it to dictate coverage and the authorities say media freedom is guaranteed by law. Georgia was lauded by its Western backers for its democratic progress after the 2003 \"Rose Revolution\" which swept reformist President Mikheil Saakashvili to power, but analysts say media remains a problematic issue. \"It is definitely worse than before the Rose Revolution as far as television is concerned because there is much more government control,\" said Shorena Shaverdashvili, editor of Georgian news magazine Liberali. Television scandals are not uncommon in Georgia, the most notorious being an imitation news report two years ago about an alleged Russian invasion that was shown by a station run by a Saakashvili ally and caused panic among viewers who vividly recalled the country\'s real war with Russia in 2008. The leading private channels, Rustavi-2 and Imedi, are both owned by people with links to the administration and their news coverage is completely dominated by lavish coverage of Saakashvili\'s speeches and PR campaigns. \"Social problems are shown on national television but it always ends happily with government programmes solving them,\" said Maia Tsiklauri, editor of the media.ge website and a former Rustavi-2 journalist. Imedi, which screened the faked invasion report, was once an anti-Saakashvili station owned by an opposition tycoon but was shut down when police crushed protests in 2007 and ended up in the hands of government loyalists. Analyst and former minister in Saakashvili\'s cabinet Gia Nodia said that although the authorities have \"levers of influence\" through friendly station owners, it was uncertain if officials actually issue instructions about which stories to cover and how they should be reported, as some critics claim. Georgian media are freer and livelier than in neighbouring ex-Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan, and a state-funded politics channel giving airtime to all parties was launched in 2010. \"There is no censorship in Georgia,\" Nodia said. Saakashvili two years ago described media freedom complaints as \"total b(expletive)\" because channels that \"hate the government\" are allowed to operate. Two pro-opposition stations which only broadcast to the capital, Maestro and Kavkasia, give substantial airtime to critics who are free to castigate senior officials. \"There are either pro-government or pro-opposition media outlets in Georgia and none of them tries to ensure balanced coverage of events,\" Nodia said. In Georgia\'s passionately polarised political environment, impartial news coverage and investigative reporting is mainly provided by low-circulation print publications and websites which are often reliant on Western grants for financial survival. \"What we need is not more propaganda or anti-propaganda but genuinely objective news,\" Shaverdashvili said. But with Georgia awaiting crucial parliamentary elections later this year and a presidential vote in 2013, the media will remain a political battleground and allegations that TV stations broadcast propaganda are unlikely to go away.

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