What are social networks to journalists - private or public space? How do the viewers perceive their (journalistic) posts? Where does the boundary between private opinions and position of an editorial office lie? How can we be flexible without sacrificing the sense of responsibility? - these are the questions participants of the discussion at the Frontline Georgia club attempted to answer on January 31.
The participants of the discussion included Shorena Shaverdashvili, Chief Editor of the Liberali magazine, Nestan Tsetskhladze, Chief Editor of the online edition Netgazati, and Natia Abramia, BBC Producer.
“Do journalists need regulations by means of which they’ll be able to control their behavior on social networks?” - that was the main topic of the discussion. Nestan Tsetskhladze pointed out, that according to labor contracts both the Netgazeti and the Batumelebi journalists shall abstain from expressing their social-political viewpoints on social networks, in order to avoid being considered as partial either themselves or the publisher they work for,”- Tsetskhladze remarked. If a journalist of the Netgazeti breaches the regulation, s/he will be discharged from office, after considering, however, the degree of damage having been inflicted to the publisher’s reputation.
Tsetskhladze as well spoke of her own mistakes made on Facebook. When “Tamar Gurchiani as Public Defender” campaign started, I myself used her photo for my avatar. Several days later I realized that it was a mistake and withdrew the picture. Later on, in spite of our balanced and impartial coverage of the Public Defender’s election process, the viewers were posting the comment that “our publisher was the supporter of Gurchiani”. I, then, realized all being the result of my mistake,”- Tsetskladze says.
Shorena Shaverdashvili, having apologized for her own and the Liberali journalist statements on Facebook, explained that social networks are a public space and a journalist must, therefore, act within it in a similar manner as s/he would on Rustavi 2 air, as there are potential respondents and readers on Facebook that judge a journalist in accordance with his avatar, either replies, or the links shared. She, though, believes that there is no need in predefined regulations,” as if we do not impose regulations upon a journalist in a public space, we should as well refrain from doing it on Facebook.
Natia Abramia spoke about her experience in acting within social networks and remarked that she isn’t formally obliged to follow the regulations, but she tries to act in a manner to secure her the viewers’ confidence.” For instance, one of the BBC employees- a business-editor being live during the program, later Twitted: “ I fell asleep and barely made it to the live connection, I have no idea of the things I babbled, I’ll drink a coffee now, hope it helps.”-Abramia says. She doesn’t as well see problems in “like”-ing the pages of politicians, different organizations and movements, in case journalistic task requires information to be obtained from those pages. “If I permanently “like” xenophobic and Nazi publications, it may then be an indication of some kind of problem with my identity. The fact, however, that I have “liked” the page of Bera, doesn’t necessarily suggest I’m an admirer of his music,”- Abramia says.
The audience later joined the discussion, saying that a journalist may express his opinion on social networks if only buttressed up by facts, not bare opinions.
It was also outlined during the discussion, that a journalist covering cultural topics may express his political viewpoints. What was also stressed upon, was the fact that journalists in Georgian reality may have to cover different field, and, thus, it would be safer to abstain from pointing out one’s stance.
There hasn’t been any universal recipe of conduct within social networks worked out during the discussion, as according to the participant, the subject requires great deal of further consideration. They, though, came to an agreement that on social networks a journalist should act in a way to rule out any doubts that might arise either to the reliability or impartiality of the publisher or himself. The discussion participants also stressed that one is always free to express his/her opinion within closed groups, which allows you to decide whom to confide a certain viewpoint or post.