Chief of Party of IREX G-MEDIA Program Matt Shelley visited Georgian regions and met with representatives of regional media organizations. What problems have been identified during the meetings and how he assesses the situation in Georgian media in general? In what direction does IREX plan to support media development in Georgia? About these and other questions media.ge spoke with Mr. Shelley.
Mr. Shelley, what was the objective of your visit to regional media organizations?
I have been in Georgia for three months and it was very important for me to visit the regions and to meet with representatives of media outlets; to understand how they work. I’ve had a great impression from those meetings as they work in very hard and complicated conditions and protect the values that we cherish – free media and professional journalism.
What kinds of problems have been identified during the visits?
One of the main problems that representatives of media outlets brought up was inadequate availability of public information. They say for them it is a problem not to just receive public information but also to enter public buildings and to communicate with public officials. In some areas people are afraid and to not communicate with media; there are also cases of pressure on potential advertisers when they show support to independent media by ordering advertisements. Situation with availability of public information in Eastern and Western Georgia is different.
In Eastern Georgia journalists say that lately public officials often agree to interviews and to speaking about existing problems; public information has become better available to journalists also than it was before. In Western Georgia the approach of public structures to journalists is still antagonistic.
Of course there also is the problem with proper education and professionalism; although, I have also been impressed by the fact that publishers care about professional development of journalists. This does not happen in many places. It was important for us to see that despite having minimal resources the media organizations approach their work with responsibility.
How would you assess the condition of media in Georgia in general; what problems does media face and how can these problems be solved?
I do not think of myself as of an expert in this issue as the three months that I have been here are not enough to make conclusions although I have already seen that media is polarized. One part of media is pro-governmental and the other part is pro-opposition; only minor part of media is in the middle. This is while democracy means media acting according to public interests; media for which public information is available, which is able to freely cover issues and people are able to choose from many channels and newspapers in order to receive true, precise and balanced information. After this audience decides if it is propaganda, or information.
I think it takes time. With time everyone will realize that journalists are there to make information available to people. Based on this information society will form the opinion on how the government must be and how the society must be. It needs generations for these changes to take place. Young journalists who are starting to understand this now and will become editors in several years are the ones who will make these changes. It takes time for politicians, media owners, publishers and the society to realize that the role of media in a democratic society is provision of information and proposition of the form of debate. Based on all this people will be able to make decisions.
There is a tendency that the so called media in the middle survives only thanks to grants and when funding stops they have to struggle to survive. How do you think do such media organizations have a chance to develop into successful businesses?
Of course they do. We are here because this chance exists. We already have examples of certain media organizations improving their financial situation. There are cases when a program was so interesting to society and advertisers that it became self-sustainable after the grant period expired. Such examples allow us to hope that it is possible.
Have the programs that media outlets have launched via your grants been successful?
I have already mentioned that there are curtain successes in view of financial revenues. As for the content, it may not always be financially profitable, but it seriously contributes to the development and functioning of a media outlet. We have had programs that have not attracted advertisements, but have been outstanding by content. I believe media will finally create programs that will also be economically profitable; although we understand that money is in entertainment programs and not in the content that we fund – journalistic investigation, documentary films, and news journalism.
Which spheres will be of priority for you in future? What will you try to develop?
We will continue supporting journalistic education through organizing trainings for professional journalists; will issue grants for business development; in order for media organizations to become sustainable. There will be grants for media rights protection organizations also.