Our business trip to Telavi coincides with the visit of the members of the Council of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics to the city. For the first day of the visit they have scheduled a meeting with local population. Surprisingly the meeting was cancelled, as nobody came. I decided to speak with locals.
Majority of locals afraid of journalists, but I still manage to speak with several of them. They say that in Telavi people mainly watches the local cable TV Gorda and via satellite antennas. Majority of my respondents, despite their age and sex, are Rustavi 2 and Imedi viewers, although, they do not answer the question if they trust those channels. “What difference does it make if I trust them or not? The fact is that I watch them. What else can I watch anyway?” – Tinatin Datashvili asks.
Abesalom Kalamashvili, 70, watches TV via a satellite antenna and he receives signal of only three Georgian channels – Rustavi 2, Imedi TV and the First Channel. “They show the same news on all three channels so why should I be changing channels? I stopped my TV on Rustavi 2 and always watch it. Courier newscast starts after evening soap-operas; then there’s some entertainment program and time comes to go to sleep,” Abesalom explains to me and adds – “who knows… they probably report the truth.”
Irma Dolenjashvili, 54, does not watch newscasts any more at all. She is Gorda customer, which has removed Maestro TV from its network several years ago. “They switched off the channel that I trusted. The others are permanently lying, so I don’t watch the news anymore,” Irma says.
It appears that Telavi youth does not watch TV much and uses Internet for entertainment.
“I’m not interested in politics and news. I mainly watch Russian music channels. I do not read newspapers either; just sometimes look through Rating magazine,” Elena Okhanashvili, 23, says and adds that sometimes she also watches local TV-Company Tanamgzavri (Satellite.) I meet several other who watch the programs of Tanamgzavri. Gorda customers are not able to watch Tanamgzavri. Conflict between the two Companies started 6-7 years ago and Gorda removed Tanamgzavri from its network. Gorda does not re-broadcast Maestro TV and Kavkasia TV, but instead, it offers its customers the national channels, Real TV, Mze, First Stereo, Abkhazetis Khma (Voice of Abkhazia), Ertsulovneba (Unity), New Channel and up to 50 foreign channels. Gorda also airs its own channel, which mainly broadcasts live picture from a camera installed in the center of Telavi.
Telavi also has local radio – Chveni Radio (Our Radio), the journalists of which also publish Chveni Gazeti (Our Newspaper.) Both outlets are managed by the Company Georgia XXI Century, founded by Nana Kibishauri, who says that functioning of both media-outlets has been suspended for the moment. According to her, the radio was suspended due to repair works in the street where it is located and the newspaper is not being published due to lack of finances.
At the moment, in Telavi and surrounding villages no other regional publications, or broadcasters operate, only Tanamgzavri.
I’m looking for press. It is impossible to buy newspapers in Telavi on weekends. All the kiosks are closed. Telavi has Sakpresa and Georgian Lottery Company kiosks. On Monday only one, Sakpresa kiosk opened, several others remain closed. Salesperson from a nearby store explains to me that the kiosks are closed due to the cold weather. “They will open them when it gets warmer,” she calms me down.
All the kiosks are located at the central, Erekle II Street, or nearby the city marketplace. Press is not sold in other streets. Kviris Palitra stand is also at the entrance to the marketplace. According to the salesperson, people mainly buy Alia, Kronika and Kviris Palitra. Sakpresa kiosk salesperson Tinatin Natroshvili names the same newspapers are the most popular too.
In the beginning of April the Kakhetis Khma (Voice of Kakheti) newspaper is moving from Gurjaani to Telavi and is opening a press-café. Kakhetis Khma publisher Maia Mamulashvili hopes that the distribution will be improved in the new city.
“There’s more population here and news also. Additionally they do not have a regional publication here. I think I will be able to occupy this market. We will leave one correspondent in Gurjaani,” Maia Mamulashvili says.
There’s a 5-minute drive from Telavi to Kurdgelauri. As long as I get into the route-taxi I notice a handwritten announcement saying that in two days Kurdgelauri administration will be speaking with the village population about the State Program for Support to Villages, in the Kurdgelauri Club. This is the main topic of discussion during the drive also. They want the road to be repaired. I change the subject and ask them about media. They say they watch Rustavi 2 and Imedi. The argument is again the same: “What else can I watch? They are still better than other Georgian channels.” They have not tried to find an alternative source of information. Kurdgelauri residents are Gorda customers also.
I tell them about the self-regulation boards and the Charter of Ethics; they know nothing about it. “I would not complain even if I knew. You think it will make them do better?” – a woman of 50 tells me and categorically refuses to say her name, just like all the others in the minibus.
According to them, they do not listen to radio and press is not sold in the villages. They need to go to Telavi to buy a newspaper.
Several representatives of media attend the session of the Council of the Charter of Journalistic Ethics the next day. The Council members did not expect such inactivity.
I go to Ikalto. In the quite big village press is sold only in one roadside store. The salesperson, Naira is complaining that nobody is interested in newspapers. Locals watch TV via antennas – only the three national channels.
Several residents use Akhmeta cable TV services and even fewer families have satellite antennas. They watch Rustavi 2 and Imedi here also. “I believe what they say on TV,” Nona Krialashvili, who works at the store in the center of the village, says. This is where Ikalto residents gather every day and more often learn the news from each other, than from media.
Majority of Tsinandali village population also watches Rustavi 2 and Imedi. “Although they permanently report on murders and Misha’s (Mikheil Saakashvili) visits, but what else can I watch? When I come back from the vineyard, tired, I lay down on the sofa and watch Courier (Rustavi 2 newscast)” – Shota Imerlishvili says.
They do not listen to radio either. There’s Internet only via modems of communication companies. Gorda is also present here, but has relatively less customers in Tsinandali. “The fee is GEL 10 per month and they show the same Georgian channels that I receive with a regular antenna. What should I pay the money for? And I’m not interested in those foreign channels,” Grandpa Zakro (he asked me to write this way) tells me and adds that information is better in the newspapers, so he prefers to read them. As evidence he takes out of his poket Asaval-Dasavali newspaper. The issue is from that day.