Georgia’s pre-election media environment and its well-established narrative

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Cathode rays were discovered in 1869, followed by the invention of the cathode ray tube (CRT). Finally, in 1934 the German technology company Telefunken produced the first commercial TV box, delivering a huge blow to print media as the main source of public information. Today, it is television’s influence that has started to wane as the internet has slowly crept into people’s homes and become accessible to large swaths of the public. This has left TV’s reigning power as the main source for news and information in steep decline.

Nevertheless, television is still the most frequently used source of information in Georgia, and its penetration is almost universal. Based on GORBI’s recent survey of Tbilisi residents, four in five (81%) cite television as their main source of news and information, 69% cite the internet, 23% newspapers and magazines and only 12% cite the radio as their chief source of information. As far as social media is concerned, Facebook is the clear champion with 80% of respondents using it at least once a week) social media compared to others platforms like Odnoklasniki and Vkontakte at 12% and 7% respectively.

In the previous column, we discussed a new tool called TVGraph, which is a hybrid of the traditional media monitoring and TV viewership data. TVGraph is unique because it can detect how many people watched biased news (commonly referred to as fake news) and who the “affected” people are in terms of demographic characteristics.

It is commonly agreed that journalists are obliged to present stories in a balanced manner in which all sides are given equal representation and facts are provided without a subjective flavor. In addition, they are not supposed to attribute epithets to any object and the tone in which it is mentioned (except in rare cases and you can read online about this in the previous column) should be neutral – neither positive nor negative.

The TVGraph project monitors several objects, three of which I will call your attention to. The data presented below is based on the previous four weeks of monitoring. Let’s start with the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its mentions in the top news programs.

According to Table 1, the CEC seems to be the most active topic for Rustavi 2, as it has attributed half of the negative tones from all (24 out of 48). It is interesting to see that the number of TV viewers column does not depend only on the number of times something was mentioned during the TV broadcast, but also on the distribution of those mentions among the channels. The CEC was mentioned 37 times on Adjara TV reaching 18,000 viewers in total. Conversely, IMEDI TV mentioned the CEC just 13 times but reached a total of 309,000 viewers. Therefore with twice as few mentions than Adjara TV, IMEDI TV’s mentions of the CEC were watched by 17 times more people.

Another example from the project is how Georgian news programs are treating the two key political parties – Georgian Dream (GD) and the United National Movement (UNM).

On all 13 television channels listed in Chart 1, the number of negative tones towards the Georgian Dream is considerably higher compared to the number its political rival the UNM received. Proportionally, from all television stations, Trialeti TV has the worst ratio for the tone of mentioning (23:1), but it terms of how many television viewers saw biased reporting, Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV combined have attracted 77% of them, thanks largely to their high ratings. In addition, on all television stations, the Georgian Dream has been mentioned sevenfold more in a negative tone than the UNM.

NB:The situation is much worse if one compares negative tones attributed to the Tbilisi mayoral candidates, as Khaki Kaladze of the Georgian Dream featured 47 times negatively, while the second highest (3 cases) mentioning was Elene Khoshtaria of the party Liberty – European Georgia.

Political parties should be heavily monitored in order to best serve the people. Nonpartisan and professional journalism is one of among very few instruments that democratic society can employ. The media environment in Georgia leading up to elections seems to have a well-established narrative to attribute negative tones to the Georgian Dream and its mayoral candidate and to the strongest opposition party – the UNM.

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 the region.


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