According to the broadcaster behavior codes and ethical charter norms that exist in Georgia, journalists are obliged to present stories in a balanced manner in which all sides are given equal representation and facts are provided without subjective flavor.
The subjective attitude of a journalist (editorial) to a specific fact can be expressed directly through epithet or comparatively indirect means such as tone of voice, mimicking, gesticulation, emphasizing specific words or irony. The combination of all thes creates a tone. The tone of voice creates and then shapes messages, and if skillfully employed, this tone becomes a double-edged sword. Whoever gets struck by this sword will sustain great harm if left with no shield.
An unbiased media agency is obliged to cover any topic that is of high interest to the public in a way that is both impartial and supported by clarified sources. If the media is “obliged” to deliver unspecified information, this should be stated outright, rather than conveying such information as fact. Except in rare instances, we should hear only balanced news from TV screens in Georgia and news provided in a neutral tone. In other words, journalist should avoid adorning politicians (as well as any other objects) with epithets that are either degrading or enlightening.
As mentioned above, there are several exceptional cases where epithets might be used to describe a person or a thing without diminishing or exalting. Epithets are used to reflect a reality that journalists could not have formulated precisely otherwise.
Let me put this another way in more simple language. If we hear a news anchor use the epithet “occupant” while referring to Russia, this will be considered a neutral tone. That’s because the occupation of sovereign Georgian land by the Russia Federation is recognized by every single reputable organization and state. Additionally, if a journalist uses the term “Mr. Saakashvili, accused in multiple crimes arrived in…” This also would be a neutral tone, because criminal prosecution is being carried out for him under the defendant status in Georgia. “Last year, the Chairman of Parliament did not miss any parliamentary meetings” provides another example of a neutral tone, because it is chairman’s responsibility to attend the meeting not miss them. However, if he visited homeless children or helped an elderly person cross the street and this fact was highlighted without employing epithets, this would considered a positive tone.
Measuring the tone of mentioning is a very straightforward but labor-intensive task. During the period leading up to elections the donor community in Georgia spends big cash to monitor media coverage and content. This is an important tool, since it keeps all participant parties sober. They understand that monitoring data is an excellent way to document the level of professionalism and fairness of a given media outlet or even a news anchor or talk show host. Based on the monitoring data and good knowledge of the local media landscapage, one can conclude how “accidental” it was for any media outlet to support and create propaganda for one or another political subject or doctrine.
However, this is not enough. This is because traditional media monitoring can’t tell you how many citizens were affected by the propaganda (intentionally supporting or destroying a subject) and what the demographic and geographic characteristics were of the affected population.
In this column, I will present the first findings of GORBI and Tri Media Intelligence’s (television audience viewership measurement project, licensed by Kantar Media) pilot project TVGraph, which is a hybrid classical media monitoring/TV audience ratings. TVGraph, along with several other statistics, allows us to identify the tone in which an object of observation has been mentioned in on TV – either directly or indirectly. It also allows us to identify how many viewers it has reached. This project monitors a number of objects, including politicians, countries and institutions on 10 national and 5 regional Georgian channels.
The actual frequency of the mention of any object doesn’t mean much – but where and when it was mentioned does. Naturally, the more shares or ratings that a television channel has, the more spectators it attracts and more poisoning (or as some think, more influential) it may become.
Table 1 demonstrates that Russia was mentioned twice in a positive tone and the U.S has been mentioned four times in a positive tone. Nevertheless, on average, 108,000 people watched the positive mention of the U.S in a minute, while two positive mentions of Russia in total received only 1,000 viewers.
A journalist mentioned both the United National Movement and the Georgian Dream in a positive tone. Nevertheless, on average, the positive mention of the Georgian Dream was watched by 21,000 more people than the positive mention of the United National Movement. One negative mention of the EU was seen by 124,000 people, while two positive mentions received only 80,000 viewings.
Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword but the tone is even mightier; and our reality is that many news stories contain negative or positive tones and hundreds of thousands of our citizens are exposed to biased news coverage.
After the elections, the TVGraph team will offer the readers of this newspaper analyses of the possible correlation between gained votes in the elections and televised negative or positive notes per political subject.
Note: I would like to extend a special thank you to Ani Lortkipanidze from TMI who assisted with analysis and charts featured in this article
GORBI is the exclusive member of Gallup International research network and has more than its two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. gorbi.com