Georgian TV and the political framing of foreign actors

Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint production of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Mariam Kobaladze, Communications Manager at CRRC Georgia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the European Union, the United Nations Development Program, or CRRC Georgia. 

No matter their political stripes, TV channels in Georgia frame association with Russia as politically condemnatory and association with Western countries as praiseworthy. 

The preliminary statement of the OSCE/ODIHR international election observation mission, published on 31 October, assessed the Georgian media environment as ‘highly polarised’. The Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics came to a similar conclusion, highlighting that polarization in television news increased as the election campaign wore on.

CRRC Georgia’s media monitoring during the pre-electoral period shows that polarization carried through to the use and portrayal of foreign actors in Georgian media. While any affiliation with Russia was intended as damaging to the reputation of a political actor, the EU and the United States were mostly portrayed as respectful actors, whose support added credit and whose criticism cast doubt on politicians.

‘Russia’ as a dirty word

Politicians who commented on ongoing events in news stories would call their opponents ‘pro-Russian’ or acting in line with Russian interests, with the clear goal of diminishing their credibility. 

Both the opposition and the ruling party used this tactic. For example, in a news story on Rustavi 2, a pro-government leaning news outlet, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream Party said that after the Bolsheviks and Communists, the opposition United National Movement ranked next in fulfilling Russia’s tasks.

Meanwhile, TV Pirvelli, an outlet critical of the Georgian Dream government, informed their audience that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cousin visited Moscow 177 times, while pro-UNM news channel Mtavari Arkhi aired a story on how Russia funds the ultra conservative Georgian March group and the conservative Patriots’ Alliance party, arguing that the lack of reaction from the Georgian government to these organisations demonstrates their sympathies with russia. 

An interesting example of using Russia to discredit a political actor was the coverage of the Davit Gareji cartographers’ court case. Opposition media covered it as a ‘Russian project’, suggesting the scandal was Russian commissioned in the wake of the tensions prior to the outburst of active conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In contrast, pro-government channels used the story to discredit the previous authorities, claiming they had pursued Russian interests. 

The West is best

Unlike Russia, EU and US-affiliated actors were presented as having authority and respect. Yet, while covering the same statements, comments, and issues issued from Western actors, different television channels underlined western support or criticism of the government based on their editorial stance, instead of both support and criticism. 

While government-leaning TV Channel Imedi covered stories on US and EU representatives calling on Georgia to hold free, fair, and transparent elections and presented OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, they did so in a way that highlighted western support for Georgia, its government, and positive assessments from international observation missions (e.g. of Election Code reform). In another similar instance, Pos TV covered the EU parliament’s resolution on Georgia’s fulfillment of the Association Agreement as the EU’s unprecedented support for Georgia and a success to be ascribed to the ruling party. 

Channels with critical views of the ruling party and the government also covered the statements and recommendations of western actors. However, the emphasis was on criticism of the ruling authorities. TV Pirveli for example aired a story about an EU Parliament report on Georgia which they presented as a tough pre-election warning for Georgia. ‘Five-hundred and fifty-two EU parliamentarians write that there is a politicized court in Georgia, court cases against opposition leaders were political, and the country under Ivanishvili’s rule has political prisoners’, a TV Pirveli journalist stated on air. ‘All this was written in the annual report of the EU parliament.’

CRRC Georgia’s monitoring of television news suggests that when covering foreign actors, television channels tend to express their political sympathies. Russia is used to cast doubt on parties and politicians while Western actors are presented as figures of authority whose support is advantageous and criticism disadvantageous. The meanings ascribed to Russia and the West hold whether or not the channel is for or against the government. But, the coverage of Western statements does change, either focusing on praise or criticism of the government and little of the coverage is balanced.