Elections and the Media
Measuring vs. Judging
"Media monitoring helps understand the principles of journalism and the challenges of professional reporting,” says Mariam Ozashvili, a young media monitor at CRRC – Georgia. Mariam holds a degree in journalism from Tbilisi State University and currently keeps an eye on the performance of seven Georgian TV channels. Her task is to assess impartiality and professionalism of election reporting backing her conclusions by factual information and quantitative data.
- Around 40 Georgian print, TV, radio and online media outlets were monitored during the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections.
- Media monitoring is performed by the Georgian civil society organizations with assistance from the European Union and UNDP.
- The internationally recognised methodology of the monitoring combines quantitative and qualitative research.
- After a significant retreat in 2008(9), Georgian media has shown modest but sustained improvement.
“We all have a media monitor syndrome,” Mariam says. “Every time we watch or read news we think of documenting, counting and scoring even if not on duty.”
Mariam is a member of a civil society team which has been monitoring the Georgian media since 2010 with assistance from the European Union and UNDP.
“Back in 2010, we identified a certain gap among the domestic civil society organizations as regards to their capacity to carry out media monitoring activities. CRRC was the first to conduct media monitoring prior to the 2010 self-governance elections with our assistance,” says Helga Pender of the European Union Delegation to Georgia.
By 2011, seven local civil society organizations were analysing the coverage of economic and social issues by Georgian electronic and print media. The assistance continued during the 2012 parliamentary elections period, when the media monitoring of around 40 Georgian print, TV, radio and online media outlets was performed by four civil society organizations: CRRC – Georgia, Internews Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), and the Civic Development Institute.
The same four organizations were engaged in monitoring the media's performance on the eve of 2013 presidential elections campaign.
“It was widely agreed by all stakeholders, here in Georgia and abroad, that media monitoring was a useful exercise and we wanted to continue our endeavours for the parliamentary and presidential elections,“ Helga Pender says.
The methodology of the monitoring is drawn out by the Slovak media monitoring organization Memo’98, which has been providing ongoing assistance and training since the inception of the project in 2010.
“The synthesis of the quantitative and qualitative research provides a full picture of how Georgian media covers the events. The quantitative information depicts time, tone devoted to certain political actors. The insights acquired through qualitative means, for instance, media agenda and its accordance with the actual events, the balance, the factuality of the news item, add extra details to the analysis,“ says Keti Chubinishvili, media monitoring team leader at CRRC – Georgia.
The monitoring reports provided by the civil society organizations are available on the web-site: www.mediamonitor.ge and the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Mediamonitor.ge. Factual findings and analysis create a good understanding of how the Georgian media works and are a useful resource for the public, media researchers and the journalists.
Solutions for Results
“Media monitoring gives the journalists a systematic and complex picture of their work. It helps to see successes and shortfalls. And it also helps the society to have an informed judgement about the credibility of media outlets“ -says media analyst, Zviad Koridze.
He also sees media monitoring as one of the mechanisms for encouraging quality reporting and strengthening the links between the media and people – an important asset in a society where the media, television especially, is still viewed as polarised and politically biased.
“Media monitoring develops professional capacities of the journalists. At the same time, the regulatory environment is equally important“-says Helga Pender.
After a significant retreat in 2008(9), Georgian media has shown modest but sustained improvement (Source: Freedom House), mainly stipulated by the amendments to the law of Georgia on Broadcasting which provided better guarantees for the access to information andthe financial transparency of the broadcasters (Source: Parliament of Georgia; OSCE Freedom of the Media).
The amendments to the Law were initiated by a group of experts whose endeavours in transforming/improving the legal landscape for the Georgian media have been backed by the European Union and UNDP.
This civil society group was particularly vocal prior to the 2012 parliamentary elections when political battles caused extreme polarisation in the Georgia media. Striving to ensure free access to a variety of information, the group advocated for the “Must-Carry/Must-Offer” regulation –the temporary obligations of the cable providers to transmit television channels with news programmes and the TV stations to make their signal available to any network operator. This civil society initiative was strongly supported by the Ambassadorial Working Group which includes accredited diplomats in Georgia and is co-chaired by UNDP and the Council of Europe.
Must-Carry/Must-Offer was initially endorsed by the Parliament in the Election Code of Georgia, though with a limited time-frame. In 2013, the new amendments advocated by the same initiative group were permanently approved to thelaw of Georgia on Broadcasting.
Lasha Tugushi, one of the leaders of the initiative group, thinks that despite these successes, civil society needs to stay active for resolving remaining issues of the media regulation.
“As in any country, elections in Georgia play an important role. It is essential to have legislation which regulates the equal media access for all interested parties,”- says Tugushi.
In the aftermath of the 2013 presidential elections, the time of assessment, reflections and future planning, the team of media monitors is getting ready for presenting the final reports to the public.
“We look forward to difficult questions. Debate and even criticism show that our research is really important,” says Giorgi Jologua of Civic Development Institute (CDI), an organization which looks into performance of the online media.
“Although this year our conclusions are more positive than in 2012,” he goes on saying.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) assessed the coverage of the 2013 presidential polls in Georgia as more open with the journalists“covering major political events in a more inclusive manner”. The shortcomings identified by the OSCE/ODIHR refer mainly to the lack of critical analysis and analytical reporting – a somewhat predictable result given the more placid atmosphere compared with the 2012 pre-election environment in Georgia.
With the next electoral round – local self-governance elections in spring 2014, only a few months away, the Georgian media and civil society still have time to continue their journey towards one of the crucial preconditions of democracy – free, independent and professional media.