Media coverage of local elections adds to political polarisation in Georgia

DRI-GYLA preliminary findings

Georgia’s political landscape is extremely polarised. While politicians set the tone for this polarisation, online and broadcast media reinforce the antagonism. The media amplifies polarising messages made by politicians, usually making no attempt to contribute with analysis or context, and often simply re-publishing the social media posts of politicians. During the recent local election campaign, key prime-time TV programmes failed to provide in-depth and balanced perspectives on local election issues. Misleading news headlines – and the inclusion of politicians’ aggressive discourse in these headlines – were wide-spread. These are the preliminary conclusions of DRI-GYLA media study conducted from June to October 2017. A full report will follow.

Media as an amplifier of polarisation

Ahead of the local election on 21 October, DRI-GYLA monitored five of the most popular online outlines and TV stations to assess how extreme political polarisation manifests in Georgian media.

Especially in the pre-election period, Georgian media was characterised by misleading titles, violations of the principle of impartiality, one-sided reporting, “no chance for response” and cases of copy-paste from politicians’ social media. These practices violate the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters in Georgia and contribute to a more polarised society in Georgia.

The ten most common words used to criticise Georgian politics were not related to reforms, public policies or political decisions, but to the demonisation of political opponents.[1]

Media standards – lost in polarisation

During the observation period, we examined three main online channels: Netgazeti, Interpressnews and Ipress. We found that two of these channels did not respect basic journalistic standards: their political news stories contained one-sided opinions, with accusations printed without an opportunity for response. Of the monitored news websites, only Netgazeti provided accurate information, neither favouring nor disfavouring one of the larger political parties.

We also monitored two of the most popular shows on TV: “Qronika” from Imedi TV and “Courier” from Rustavi 2. Both channels are notorious for their biases and political affiliations. While Imedi is generally known for being loyal to the current governmental majority (the Georgian Dream), Rustavi 2 is affiliated with the opposition (United National Movement). Confrontation between the leaders of the two parties is not only present in Georgian political life, but it is also part of the daily news and the public’s routine.

Presentation of political news: polarisation is transposed into media

Many politicians portray the opposition as being mortal enemies rather than democratic opponents. During the reporting period, the focus of the debate was 1) the clash between the two main polarising figures of Georgian politics: Bidzina Ivanashvili vs Mikheil Saakashvili, and 2) the confrontation between Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairman of the Parliament and Giorgi Margvelashvili, the President. Hate speech, vilification, personal accusations and the blaming of the opposition are key themes on the politicians’ social media, which the politicians use as their personal news channels. Many of the monitored media channels re-post these social media messages, without providing analysis, presenting a second opinion or asking for a response.

Many of the analysed outlets failed to provide context or analysis. Other news outlets that were examined tended to focus on the factual side of stories (e.g. a politician’s attending an event). In-depth stories, presenting well-analysed and unbiased information that focus on the content of the politicians’ speeches and programmes have largely been lacking.

[1] Kotsi is a derogatory euphemism to refer to the members or supporters of the ruling political party “Georgian Dream”. Natsi is a cynical euphemism referring to the members or supporters of the opposition political party “United National Movement”.

Photo courtesy: Nino Mandaria

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.