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29.10.2011 17:31

Press and Television in Marneuli and Bolnisi

David Mchedlidze
Features

At 9 am an empty yard of Marneuli public school #5 is filling up with pupils. Along with Georgian children Azerbaijanis study here too. According to the data provided by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) 83,1 percent of Marneuli population is Azerbaijani, only 3 percent out of the given figure can read Georgian.

“I can speak Georgian, therefore I have decided to take my child to a Georgian school, he is in the sixth form now, he can speak and write Georgian,” Fatima Usubova is telling me.

The newsstand in front of the school building is closed. Magazines and newspapers are for sale only at three spots in Marneuli.

There are Georgian newspapers and Russian crosswords available on the shelving at Marneuli market. I learn from the newsagent that the Georgian weekly Kviris Palitra is most readable (35 copies per week). Sports newspapers are popular too. Russian-language editions are seldom sold. Azerbaijani newspapers are not being delivered to Marneuli.

None of the newspapers come out in the language of the minorities. Two years ago once every two months, thanks to the donor funding the Times newspaper used to come out in the Georgian and Azerbaijani languages, but with the termination of the project the Timer was closed down.

In 2006, in the scope of the community radio project, having been implemented by the Consortium of Georgian and Foreign Partners, under the guidance of BBC World Service Trust,Great Britain, a community radio Marneuli was launched in Marneuli. But the radio was denied a license for community broadcasting. Therefore a decision was made to reach the audience through amplifiers. The amplifiers appeared at tea houses and in the central park where the population had a possibility to hear tri-lingual news outlets. At this stage the radio is out of operation. 

But Azerbaijani TV channels are accessible to anyone. Satellite antennas are visible everywhere here, and on some of the roofs there are several of them. Azerbaijani and Russian-language newscasts are the main source of information here.

Marneuli TV is the only television operating in the city. The TV station takes up few rooms. Only two journalists are working at the channel.

Marneuli TV is offering the viewers daily bilingual news digest, made up of at least four TV stories. Over the weekend the news summary is on.

“The region is not pampered with political issues hence social topics are being focused on,” says Marika Sologashvili, concurrently assuming the functions of the head of the information service, journalist, producer and editor. “I am my own boss too,” says she jokingly.

“There is no censorship for our television and I am very proud of it, we provide the coverage of the topics some televisions would never report about,” says Marika Sologashvili citing one example:

“The topic was related to IDPs, the people having lost their homes occupied the building of Marneuli kindergarten. The Municipality demanded them to leave the building, citing the repair works to be done as a motive. The new dwellers hadn’t been notified of what to expect. Right after the TV coverage of these people were offered new residence.

“The only agency we cannot communicate with is the police, I used to conduct talks with them over the TV coverage of criminal cases but I have been told it was impossible, the issue was to be arranged from above. As regards the municipality we have no problem with the provision of information from their side.”

Marneuli TV‘s 17-hour programming is made up of newscasts, movies and music videos. The four-hour TV air is the exclusive produce of the TV company. The TV company runs the website too.

On Wednesdays Marneuli TV airs a program Mravalkutkhedi (polygonal) produced by regional televisions. The TV air is also dedicated to the Azerbaijani-language newscast Moambe provided by the Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB). On Thursday evenings the program produced in the scope of IREX G-Media program is being aired live, the lawyer is answering the questions posed by the population and providing legal consultations.

“Absolutely all of the programs are being translated into the Azerbaijani language,” journalist Turaj Brahimova tells me. The running time of TV ads within newscasts is seven minutes. Local businessmen, banks and mobile operators are the main advertisers at Marneuli TV. Once a monthMarneuliMunicipalitypurchases Marneuli TV airtime of one hour in length. Within the given time the local Gamgebeli is answering live the calls in. According to Sologashvili the calls are free and the population is very active.

The gathering place for the men residing in the village Kizilajaghlo in Marneuli region is the local tea house. To drink tea they start getting together since morning. Spending hours in the tea house they are discussing local news.

“I like Marneuli TV, I watch their newscasts. For a few times the village faced a problem with water. We called the television. The journalists arrived and covered the issue. I don’t speak Georgian, I don’t read newspapers, I don’t find it interesting.”

“I mainly watch Azerbaijani TV channels, once a journalist arrived here fromBaku,” Inari Aliev is telling me.

One can come across Internet clubs at every step in Marneuli. Teenagers prevail therein. One-hour internet access costs 60 Georgian Tetris.

“Online Poker is being mainly played,” the owner of the internet club told me.

The monitor installed on the building ofBolnisiMunicipalityis providing, through the creeping line, the news ongoing in the region. Through a recently repaired corridor I am heading to the left wing of the building. This side of the municipality building is dark and unrepaired. The editorial office of the newspaper Bolnisi is located in one of the rooms. The Bolnisi has been coming out since 1935. Currently the circulation of the newspaper amounts to 500. 100 percent share holder of the newspaper is local Municipality. The newspaper costs 50 Georgian Tetris. The edition employs seven people, three of them are journalists.  

“We are absolutely apolitical. Everyone is fed up with politics. We are writing anything nice. We cover the topics about the activities of the Municipality, the aid it provides to the population, we also render assistance, as much as we can, to the population to tackle everyday problems, in case they address us,” says journalist Darejan Okruashvili.

The Bolnisi used to come out with an insert too but, according to journalist Bela Oniani, it did not work.

We used to employ Azerbaijani-speaking individuals too to translate materials from Georgian. We also attach Georgian alphabet but nobody bought the newspaper. Due to the lack of funds we were to remove the insert,” said she.

“We deliver the newspaper to the newsstands, being once purchased, the newspaper goes around from one hand into another. Bolnisi dwellers show keen interest, the edition has a history of 80 years. Organizations too are our subscribers,” said Darejan Okruashvili.

Since 2005 the monthly newspaper Akhali Bolnisi (new Bolnisi) has been coming out. Its circulation amounted to 350. The edition, with a two-page Armenian and Azerbaijani insert, has stopped operation.

There is no local radio in Bolnisi.

In front of the Municipality the book store Biblusi is located. The store sells magazines and newspapers too. There are two newsstands nearby.

The Kronika and Asaval-dasavali are the best selling (45-50 copies) newspapers, followed by Kviris Palitra and Gza (35 copies), says the bookshop assistant.

The situation is quite similar in the nearby newsstand. “After selling newspapers attached with books, the sales have gone up, seemingly people do not spare money on books.”

Mamuka Devnizashvili, 40, is buying three editions such as Kviris Palitra, Gza and Asaval-Dasavali on a weekly basis.

“I have got cable television but I am still curious to know what is going on in the country. Does not matter which Georgian channel you switch to, all the same everywhere. But I have no complaints in regard to the entertainment programs.”

Two televisions TV 5 and 12th Channel Bolneli are operating in Bolnisi. Both of them are run by the same director – Oleg Ugrekhelidze.

In January 2011, with the view of TV service,BilnisiMunicipalityannounced a tender. The winner of the contest was its only participant TV 5. It is noteworthy that 50 percent shareholder of TV 5 is local Municipality, which is against the Law on Broadcasting.

The TV company was based in 1995. It broadcasts from 8 am to 12 am. The programming includes music videos and movies.

“We have three journalists and four cameramen employed. According to the contract we cover the activities carried out by the Municipality,” said Oleg Ugrekhelidze reporting to Media.ge.

The 12th Channel Bolneli coverage area includes Marneuli, Kazreti, Gardabani and Tetritskaro. 19 people are employed at the TV company, five of them are journalists.

The Georgian-language news digest is being aired on a daily basis, the weekly news summary is aired live on Saturdays. The production of the Georgian-Azerbaijani newscast has been temporarily suspended but the TV staff asserts it will be resumed in a short while. The majority of population in Bolnisi is ethnic Georgians but according to the data provided by the department of statistics 80 percent of the population is ethnic Azerbaijanis.

Bolnisi-based TV company Bolneli airs the program Mravalkutkhedi on a weekly basis. The program Woman and Universe on gender issues has been temporarily suspended. We cover social issues rather often, we are not limited to Bolnisi and frequent villages too,” says journalist Fatima Tvildiani.

“The door of the Municipality, she says, is constantly open to journalists. They never encounter problems when obtaining comments. A short while ago we were conducting live air, for an hour and half the head of Municipality answered the public calls, the cases of the kind are frequent.”

The TV company has income from advertising too. Local shop owners and banks, as well as the pharmacy chain are the main advertisers.

According to the news program presenter Medea Ugrekhelidze, daughter of Oleg Ugrekhelidze the TV company has applied for grants at a number of foundations.

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