The FINANCIAL — “Georgia is a place that is different from so many others and is something to be respected,” said Jim Clancy, an anchor on CNN International. Clancy is now in Tbilisi, reporting for CNN’s iList. He visited Georgia twenty years ago. Clancy says so much has changed since that time, that it is really difficult to grasp it all in one visit. “The biggest change is in the mentality of the people,” he said.
“I always found Georgia fascinating for its history, since I first came here to understand how far back its history goes, how unique this region is, its language, how hospitable the people are, the great wine, the great folk dancing, the toasting, the fruit.”
Q. CNN’s promo says i-List takes viewers to countries that are changing the way we live and look at the world around us. Do you believe that Georgia has such influence?
A. I do believe that Georgia has lots of influence because many people around the world are currently looking at post Soviet republics. You see the tragedy in Kyrgyzstan and ask yourself what is the difference between the countries Kyrgyzstan and the Republic of Georgia. There is the corruption, lack of democracy in Kyrgyzstan, and the very opposite picture in Georgia. Of course this is not a perfect democracy, the economy remains fragile, but at the same time it is showing an improvement, it is attracting international investments precisely because there is a level of transparency that people do not find in other countries.
It has got the assets: of its people, its natural beauty, and a government that is functioning. Perhaps not fully functioning, but a government that is functioning is capable of accommodating business. Because of that it is becoming an example for many of these other states that are trying to emerge from a period of authoritarian rules and to make a name, make a path, a feature for themselves.
Q. What do you plan to show to the world about Georgia?
A. You cannot show even a small country like Georgia in just one week with even a dozen or sixteen reports. But at the same time, there are things we can focus on: language, religion, the history, some of the natural beauty.
We went to Batumi, to look at the development that is going on there. It’s truly amazing. People would be surprised at the level of foreign investments there.
The Sheraton hotel that is opening up this month is a huge hotel. And there are many more plans for the future. Moreover to get a deeper look, you can see that the local government there is planning on educating young people to speak multiple languages so they can benefit and be a part of service industry.
But I think that Georgia should be careful about the years ahead, because all kinds of people will want to come to Georgia.
As we noted in the Vardzian caves, UAE has an investment there in hotels. The monks are wondering what all this is going to take away from the natural beauty and traditional simplicity of the caves, when only occupied only by a few monks. But even the monks admit that still there is a balance, because the people who come will never forget it.
There was a huge statue of Lenin and Soviet soldiers in the centre of Tbilisi. We came back 20 years later and found a golden statue of Saint George there instead. That is a huge change. It is symbolic of what happened here in Georgia. I talked to business people and everybody is enthusiastic. People are very enthusiastic. The future is being made today. So, there are huge changes going on.
But some things have not changed enough. If you drive in the streets of Tbilisi you still see roads that need repair, you see neighbourhoods that need serious renovations. There is a lot of work to be done. I do not think anyone is looking pass that. I think that you understand that what has been done in steps, has been done in the right way. Even a new bridge across the river is quite a remarkable piece of work. The skyline is different but it all seems to be preserved with just some new additions.
Q. Have you seen the TV commercial about Georgia on CNN? How impressive is it to you? What do you think Georgia should be advertising?
A. I think it is great that the outside world recognizes that business transparency here is easy for doing business. It is right for Georgia to point to the corruption statistics, the progress that has been made is enough. I think that it encourages business, but at the same time, in my estimation there are biggest attractions: the hospitality, the food, the wine. Some of the songs we have done stories about. I think our stories are a better introduction to Georgia. But that is what we see. It is what we report. We are fascinated and encouraged by you.
Q. If you were Georgian, how would your life be different?
A. I think I would almost certainly be involved in the media here and in the level of pushing for more investigative reporting, standing up to the politicians, making sure that all the different sides were represented by any given media outlet. And not only the media. Some countries have gone in that direction: of an independent media outlet and a government media outlet. One is always supporting the government and the other is always supporting, say, the opposition. Every media outlet should be supporting both objectively. It should be trying to balance the ideas of both and listen to the people of Georgia. What they want to ask them; are you satisfied, yes or no? Explain your thoughts and listen to them. And make the politicians listen, because that is your job.
I think I would enjoy it. I think I would have a lot of fun, because you are right at the beginning of building institutions. And the institution of the media and the institution of an independent voice have to be built, defended, refined, worked on, and pursued every day.
Q. Tell us about the role of the media that creates an international image of Georgia. What do you think, what do people in America know about Georgia?
A. In two words: not enough.
I live in Georgia, but it is the state of Georgia. And when I told my people I was in Georgia, they told me: but you are already here. A lot of people do not understand what Georgia is. They do not understand that it is a Christian country, a 90% Christian country, in the sphere of Muslim influence. It is a multi religious country, there are Muslims living in this country as well. But I think that a lot of its traditions derive from that.
Explaining to people that it has a unique language all its own, with a unique alphabet, all its own, the origins of that. How it makes people here different, their understanding of the world. For most of the twentieth century, whether there were Bolsheviks or others in rule, they were not able to develop independently. They have been influenced heavily by other states and regions, meaning Russia. And politics, what happened in 2008, all of those problems, trying to understand them. Understand that Georgia is balancing between three worlds: Asia, Europe and also the dominants in the sphere of influence, of Russia. And it should be up to the Georgian people themselves, to make the choice, are you going to be pro Western, are you going to be in the Russian sphere or perhpas try to have a middle line. You have good relations with your neighbours and are reaching further than them.
Q. How difficult is to change the stereotype of Georgia?
A. Difficult. It is like teaching people from the very start, educating them, making them aware of something. It is going to be a long process. And I think that Georgian young people can be ambassadors for that. As they travel around the world.
You know, you change a couple of people’s points of views, especially of young people and they then become teachers who tell others about Georgia. So it is going to take time. With our mini programme we got a great response from people around the world who said that they did not understand very much about Georgia and now understand much more, they would consider visiting here because they find it fascinating, like we did.
Q. You just returned from Kiev, spending extra time there because of flight delays. Ukraine and Georgia have a similar history but now Ukraine is changing its links with the US. Do you feel that Ukraine has changed since the orange revolution?
A. I am not sure that I am qualified to talk much about Ukraine. I think that you are going to see the success of governments in many of these post Soviet republics, whether Ukraine was an independent country or not. We all know that we should have another vote in the UN for Russia. It is up to the Ukrainian people to decide which way they want to go. It is not really up to me. I think that if I were a Georgian or Ukrainian I would be looking to be a friend with everyone. That is my own personal view. But each country will find its own path. I really think they will. 20 years is nothing in history. So how countries evolve will have to be seen. Why did one government win over another, because politicians do not keep their promises. There will be changes in the government, this is democracy. How many government changes have there been? Not so many. It takes time. One’s government should be allowed to come in and make its own mistakes. And the voters judge them at the polls. And hopefully they learn from that. And they learn how to provide services, the basic essentials for people. To improve their lives, improve their country. And have a better future for everybody.
Q. You joined CNN in 1981 as a national correspondent after your career in local radio and television in Denver and San Francisco. How has CNN changed since that time?
A. CNN has changed in many different ways. Our technologies changed. Today I can report with a computer, a camera and a little satellite telephone from any place in the world, I am completely mobile. I am capable of carrying, instead of 1.5 tonnes of equipment when I travel, just a small suitcase and then travel anywhere.
The fundamentals of CNN have not changed. No one believed you could do news 24 hours a day until Ted Turner says: I want to put it on air 24 hours a day. And everybody thought it would commercially fail, because they had seen how much news produces cost. And there was no money. So, a couple of things happened. Number one: he proved you can provide news 24 hours a day. Number two: he also proved people would watch it. People wanted to know the news. And today CNN has people who imitate CNN around the world. And at the same time what has not changed are the core values of trying to present all sides of stories that are still there. So the rest of the world can share these ideas. And it is wonderful to spend so much time with them.
Q. You are actively promoting CNN’s facebook page and twitter. Do you think that the TV era is over and social media has now become dominant?
A. I think that social media is becoming a component of that. I do not think that social media is becoming a dominant part of that I think it is useful to be able to read what people have to say and listen to their input but when someone goes on a blog, or on twitter and offers their opinion of the news, that is not the same as one of the main stream media channels going in to cover of story and spending money to put someone on the ground to talk to people to understand the story. To hire the translators, or hire the security when necessary. In this issue millions of USD are spent per month. And the value of the information that you get from someone that is willing to make that kind of commitment to a news story is entirely different from someone who sits in a room in Washington or in Tbilisi and writes about it. Social media is going to grow in importance, connectivity will increase but I think journalism itself should be based on going, putting your feet on the ground, trying to look through the eyes of the people that are there. Not just through your own opinions that you say from 5 thousand kilometres away.
Jim Clancy brings the experience of more than three decades covering the world to every newscast on CNN International. He didn’t just read about the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the siege of Beirut, the Rwanda Genocide, or all of the Iraq wars. He was there.. His career includes reporting on the events that have shaped history over the last quarter century. His interviews with international personalities reads like a “Who’s Who” of our times. In his 29 years with the network, Clancy has taken viewers to places all over the world from Johannesburg, South Africa to Shanghai, China and Beirut, Lebanon.
Clancy helped lead CNN International’s coverage of the 2003 War in the Gulf that led to the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Inside Iraq, his coverage focused beyond the fall of Saddam Hussein to the looting of the National Museum and the charges of payoffs and power plays that ultimately led to the arrest of a “self-declared Mayor” of Baghdad. His years of experience covering Iraq also contributed to a deeper perspective of what the Iraqi people endured during decades of dictatorship and what their aspirations are for the future.
Following the September 11th terrorist attacks on America, Clancy travelled to Afghanistan to cover the War on Terrorism, meet with Taliban leaders and witness the collapse of their grip on power. Having lived in Beirut and worked in almost every Arab country, Clancy also has a seasoned understanding of the Middle East. He most recently reported on the conflict between Israel and Lebanon for both CNNI and CNN/U.S. from Beirut.
Clancy played a key role in bringing the half-hour weekly programme ‘Inside Africa’ to air to give the world a more balanced and more accurate view of the problems and the progress being made on the continent.
For his work on Inside Africa, he received the A.H. Boerma Award 2000-01 from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for increasing public awareness of hunger in the world.
From 1982 to 1996, Clancy was a CNN international correspondent in the Beirut, Frankfurt, Rome and London bureaus.
Jim Clancy joined CNN in 1981 as a national correspondent after an extensive, award-winning career in local radio and television in Denver and San Francisco.