Media experts and professional organizations define the Georgian mainstream media as “polarized”, where some of the TV stations pursue a pro-government editorial policy while others favor the opposition. Meanwhile, the ruling Georgian Dream party and other government officials frequently criticize journalists and opposition media outlets, as well as publicly pointing out the need to regulate the media. These messages are often considered a threat to free speech and freedom of expression as well as an attempt to intimidate the media.
Mediachecker is presenting a three-part interview with Shalva Papuashvili, one of the main figures in the Georgian Dream government, that will discuss polarization, media standards, legislation, and violence against journalists.
As for a representative of the Ruling Party, what is your view towards the current media environment in Georgia?
I am a lawyer and lawyers often say: it is important to agree on definitions. Such is the scientific approach in general. So, I have two questions for you: What do you think is journalism/media? What is the purpose of it?
Our goal is to provide information to the public so that they can make informed choices.
Yes. And what is the difference between the journalism and propaganda?
You should answer this question yourself, because, as I understand, now you are traying to describe today's media environment.
Do you know why? Sometimes definitions are chaotic and if we do not have the right definition, we cannot say what is media and what is not. That must be also said, because it is difficult to evaluate different things by the same criteria, right? Propaganda is propaganda, journalism is journalism.
Propaganda is a weapon, do you mean that?
Journalism, as you have said, is about providing information in good faith. It is objectivity and other things as well, of course, but it is providing information in good faith for a person to have a correct idea of the world, of the various elements of the universe.
Propaganda is the selective delivery of information, etc., in order to achieve a certain goal. Propaganda itself already has a purpose in terms of outcome. This is for definition.
As for the environment: my view results from the fact that, unfortunately, journalism is poor in our country. There may be media as a medium, a transmitter of the information, a provider of something from point A to point B, but if you ask me, terms like journalistic ethics, standard, are not even used anymore.
I remember how it used to be when journalistic standard was part of professional pride and people were proud of it.
Then, at some point, during Saakashvili’s presidency, probably in 2005-2006, I remember there were talks and argues that "there is no impartiality," that "we are all humanly, subjectively biased, so there can be no balanced information and objective journalism."
There was a discussion that the main principle should be the market of ideas, that it is better to have a lot of subjective and biased media and in this diversity, whether the viewer or the reader, would get acquainted with this diversity, make their choice, and form an opinion.
This was partly substantiated by the example of the American media. Or even on the example of Europe, some newspapers in Germany are more conservative, some – of other kind, and so on.
Eventually, it was interpreted here so that the media became a direct weapon for propaganda, and the journalist - a propagandist. In Fact, we have almost no journalism.
You mentioned, how respectful journalistic ethics used to be, now how do you imagine a good, healthy media environment in the country?
First, the journalists must realize that their profession is ethical journalism and not propaganda. These standards then need to be considered and regulated as well.
This experience of so called “market of ideas”, showed us that the idea of the audience coming up with an objective conclusion after watching many subjective channels, does not work. In fact, this is not how the economic market works and it also has flaws - that is why it needs regulation.
I would like you to explain the topic of regulations in more detail later. I remember your recent statements, about polarized media environment. You are one of the leaders of the Ruling Party, you are in state power, how do you think this polarization can be reduced?
Media is part of the general polarization. The fact is that the media is not just a provider of information: TV channels, media basically, has become a participant, an actor who creates politics itself. It has become a public determinant of the political agenda.
The media Is no longer observer and broadcaster, as it is a propagandist, on the one hand, and not only an instrument of propaganda but, in some cases, the author of propaganda as well.
How to reduce polarization? It must be rejected. However, it is difficult to do. There is a suspicion that most likely, various media outlets will not be able to finance themselves solely with advertising revenue and have additional income from political parties. Therefore, it seems that this business structure itself is formed this way.
Do you say that the main sponsors of the media are political parties?
Do you mean all political parties in this case?
I do not know if all are. It is hard to say if there are any. But in this case experts say that on the one hand, considering the size of the advertising market, we know how much the advertising revenue of different media outlets is. Experts know what their expenses cab be and when comparing all of this, they realize that it is difficult...
Can you tell us more specifically which political parties and experts you are talking about? As the experts have been mentioned, there probably are specific examples.
I cannot say specifically, because I can’t bring exact quotes, but regarding the advertising market, if I am not mistaken, Transparency International-Georgia had a study. Anyway, this is my assumption based on some realistic estimates. You must be better aware about it.
So, are you trying to say that if Political parties are not main sponsors of media, the polarization will reduce?
The main problem here, along with many other things, is hypocrisy. That a person, who in fact, is a propagandist, says that they are journalist; The problem here is not that someone is a propagandist, the problem is they are actually, someone else. They pretend to be an independent media, but in fact the party is financing them.
For example, “Girchi” party has its own television. We know that it is a TV owned by a political party (in some cases more objective than some non-partisan televisions). What I mean is that, when you start hiding something or pretending, that's where the falseness begins and then it gets complicated. The problem is not that the television is partisan, the problem is that it does not declare it. In a contrary, it presents itself as an independent media.
I think everyone is aware of the fact that "TV Formula" is financed by Davit Kezerashvili [A businessman and former UNM defense minister]. It is officially the case, isn’t it? We also know that Kezerashvili is involved in politics.
So, you think the polarization will reduce when finances doesn’t come from political parties or when TV channels openly declare that “they are executing the agenda of the specific party”?
Maybe [it can partially help]. Today, it is easy to distinguish who is affiliated with whom. But it does not help completely. What I mean here first thing to do is to at least call things by their names - whether it propaganda or whether is it media.
Sometimes, when we [the ruling party or the government] refuse to visit TV station or give them a comment on something, we are told that we “do not like the critical media”.
In fact, if it is a declared propaganda, then it turns out that it is not the media. The same, "Girchi" is television, but does it complain when we don’t visit their channel?!
You, "Georgian Dream", refuse to visit specific [critical towards government] TV channels. For years, in fact, you have been in boycott mode with them. If we say that polarization is a problem, doesn’t your decision not to talk to these televisions deepen this problem?
Yes, but the point is, that we should ask the question - where are we going? Are we going to a TV channel or are we going to a political party? This is the main issue.
Do you refer to these Televisions as parties?
In fact, we see that they are participants in the political process, aren’t they? The “Mtavari TV” is the determinant of the political process. When the head of "Mtavari" is also a journalist, a lawyer, an ally of the party and gives direct instructions to them, etc., should we fool ourselves? As soon as we stop fooling ourselves, many things will become clear. The second issue is impropriety…
I understand what you are saying, but I'm asking you something else: don’t you think that your absence on these televisions contributes to polarization?
You probably remember that before the elections we used to go to "TV Pirveli" and "Mtavari". I personally attended four or five shows on TV - “Mtavari”.
I remember you went there on your own terms: talking one on one with the host and not participating in debates.
Yes. It was an act, a step that meant that we were ready to visit their programs. Because it is important for us.
Why did you think it was important that you should go there, it is important to talk to them, right?
Then why did you decide to go?
So that we could talk to their audience. We see that this polarization, among others, is the polarization in the audience. The viewers are segmented and polarized. Part of the viewers watch one part of the televisions, the other part – watches another. So, if you talk to viewers from only one TV channel, the viewers of the other one, cannot hear your side of the story. That's why it's important that we get there and talk to their audience.
Didn't you consider it important before? Or do you no longer feel that way since you are no longer going to those channels?
Overall, it is important now as well, but there is some margin, which makes it difficult.
How do you define this margin?
One – impropriety…
You, as the ruling party, are accountable to the citizens. How do you respond to this accountability when you have basically boycotted these TV channels in recent years, and you only go there very rarely and on your own terms?
When you go to a space where there is manipulation and not journalism, you go there, and you know that you will be manipulated. But you still think you will be able to break through this manipulation and say what you have to say.
The second thing is impropriety. By this impropriety I mean when journalists are directly obscene towards your party members.
To specify, what do you mean by "impropriety?"
For example, swearing, insulting.
But you have duty to tolerate nuisance more than an ordinary person?
No, this is a lie.
Why is it a lie? You are the government, the ruling power.
Yes, but there is no duty to tolerate nuisance towards impropriety.
In general, do you have a greater obligation to be more patient and tolerant than an ordinary citizen?
No, no way.
Is not that so?
This duty to tolerate nuisance is misunderstood. This does not mean that when someone insults you, you cannot impose a social sanction by not saying anything, not communicating with them.
The obligation to patience implies that you have a higher standard, for example when you take a case to a court to prove something, and so on. There is no obligation to listen to insults.
You, the government, have not only duty to tolerate nuisance but you are accountable towards the citizens.
Accountability, of course. But I'm surprised by what you just said. I'm telling you that when a journalist, a presenter, insults you, when they use obscene words towards a member of your team, do I have any human, moral, political, obligation? Do we expect the insulted person to have an obligation to talk to that journalist and give an interview?
Is this the reason why "Georgian Dream" has not talked to specific TV channels for years?
This is one of the examples.
But you have said before that sometimes you accept their invitation to the programs, sometimes you don’t. How do you decide when to do so and when not to? Again, these TV channels have big audiences and when you refuse to talk to them, does not that deepen the polarization?
No, it does not; it simply leaves those people in the propaganda "bubble" created by those televisions.
What is polarization than, if not this?
There is no deepening. It is as it is. It remains like that consistently.
But neither does it decrease (and you say you are trying to decrease polarization).
Certainly, we want to, but we must look at it this way: First - our vision is that some TV stations are not only affiliated with some political parties but are part of them – they act as the parties’ news departments. We know that. And we do not go to the studio programs, but we do not refuse to give them comments.
Sometimes you do.
Yes, there are such periods. When they do something really wrong, we use our right, to impose so called social sanction to them and refuse to comment.
Impose a social sanction on journalists?
Yes, that's a social sanction. What other leverage is there? As I can see, we cannot start a dialogue because it’s hard to come up with the initial agreement. We should agree on the key aspect – do we want journalism or propaganda?
Media is everything today, Facebook is a media, YouTube is, Twitter is. That's why I use the word "journalism". The word "media" simplifies the meaning of journalism, and it seems that everything is acceptable. Write a post on Facebook and you are already a media. Journalism is a profession that has its own standards, criteria and follows certain rules. What I am trying to say is that Journalism is disappearing, and it has become propaganda.
To understand what I am saying, you must assume that it is propaganda.
My assumption is not required. Numerous influential organizations directly state that the parties use some media outlets as a tool of propaganda.
The OSCE/ODIHR report now states that the media was engaged in political activism.
The OSCE / ODIHR report also concluded that the media in Georgia was divided into two parts - the pro-government media and the opposition media, “which limited the ability of voters to make informed decisions”. There was the discussion not only about the opposition, but also of the state media.
That is why we see the risks. The idea of propaganda is to show the world to its audience the way it wants to be seen. When you collaborate with a propagandist, you realize that they will use you for propaganda. So, you should not allow it to be used for propaganda.
I understand what you are saying, and I agree that when the media becomes a tool of propaganda, that media is no longer ethical or objective. But now you are mostly talking only about the opposition media. We also have the pro-government media in the country. This is not my assumption, it is stated by several influential organizations, including the OSCE/ODIHR, which you mentioned yourself. Media monitoring reports also openly state that, for example, “Imedi” and “PosTV” Channels are weapons of governmental propaganda. Can't you see the problem on this side?
This side has its own history. First, I do not know the government. Maybe they support the Georgian Dream.
Do you see a problem in this?
In general, the problem exists, since this polarization in the media means that everyone is left within their perspective. Imedi has its own history - the history of the anti-UNM [The largest Georgian Opposition party] - which at some point, is directly stated by them, that it is their editorial policy. This channel has an identity related to the fact that the United National Movement raided it [He is talking about the police raiding and shutting down TV Imedi on November 7, 2007], occupied it and then managed this television as an invader. This television has a historical media trauma and, therefore, their attitude is understandable. "PosTV" also has its attitude.
So, it is understandable for you. Is it acceptable too?
Do you know what is acceptable? Polarization is not acceptable. The journalistic standard is what should be acceptable. Here we must find we have got the journalistic standard, where we do not have it, and where we have it partially.
And what kind of journalistic standards do we have on the Pro-Government side? Because, if we agree that ethics, impartiality, objectivity is important, you always criticize only the opposition media. We have never heard the criticism of the other side from you.
I criticize what I am concerned about. Let the others criticize what they are concern about. Overall, everyone criticizes according to their concerns. Am I the one who has an objective obligation to look at the world and judge who is right and who is wrong?!
But why do you left out the other side of the media when you talk about good media environment?
Otherwise, I would have to compare, and I do not want to do that.
Do not compare, let's talk in general. If we agree on media standards, and does the pro-government media meet them?
No, today neither side meets the media standard.
Before 2015, we had a big wave of deregulation under Saakashvili, and the talks that the market would regulate itself.
For example, before 2015, we had generations of children that we thought we were providing with calcium by offering them dairy products. In 2015, it turned out that the products we thought were dairy products, were not made of real milk. In 2015, a law was introduced that said that a cheese can only called a product made from animal milk. Therefore, it turned out that the market could not regulate.
What are we comparing to each other now?
The point is that if we think that after consuming variety of subjective information ensures that we come to an objective conclusion, this is not really the case. In fact, people tend to pay more attention to what better explains their views, what convinces them of the correctness of their world, which confirms their versions.
In the modern world, as it turns out, a person is not even critical, but rather tries to get his/her confirmation of their own vision of the of the world. This causes an individual to not even switch from one channel to another. As a result, a person cannot even see the reality beyond the channel they chose to watch.
What do you mean by that?
I mean that the system itself is wrong. The system that lets us have a lot of biased media outlets and assuming that critical viewers make sense of it.
But we also have a public broadcaster.
We have, but there is a problem with ratings. Should not the media have an influence?!
Does not the public broadcaster have an influence?
Objectively, some people there are telling some truths, but there should be someone listening to it. It has no rating; we know about it. I do not know exactly, where does it stand by TV ratings? Is it 7th? 8th?
Social media and policy agenda issue is a separate story. Someone posts something in the morning and it becomes the topic of the evening talk show, this is yet another issue.
But, at least, I want to say what my personal perception is this: just like before 2015, the market could not regulate What real cheese was and what was not.
Do you want to say that we need to regulate Media?
I'm very interested in your opinion on regulation and would like to talk a little more soon. Before that, let me clarify one issue: you stated that we agree on polarization, we have one side, we have another side, and we do not like either, do we?
Here, of course, is the question: is it really possible to have a sterile, objective media?! There is some grain of truth in this. The fact is that we [in Georgia] like to exaggerate and things get radicalized very easily here. So it also depends on what kind of bias we are talking about.
Do you mean the government side as well?
There is no government side. Someone may be biased towards the Georgian Dream Party or dislike the United National Movement to the extent that it sees itself as an ally of the Georgian Dream. And that’s why they may support strengthening Georgian Dream to prevent the return of the National Movement in the government.
Isn’t that your agenda too?
Of course. Some people stand close to us and his, of course, is not inconvenient for anyone.
By the way, if we want to make a comparison, I would not bring "Mtavari", "Formula" and "TV Pirveli" even closer to the media standard of "Imedi". "Mtavari", "Formula" and "TV Pirveli" are no longer the ethical journalism, in some cases they even go beyond the human ethics.
In "Imedi", for example, there is no impropriety. Violation of human ethics. It happens very rarely.
Media monitoring reports state different: both sides use insulting language towards each other.
Maybe, but I can send you examples of impropriety.
You mean swearing and this is your argument. Yes, there are specific cases of that, but you cannot generalize it on everyone.
There are journalistic methods, of exaggeration, of kitsch, but there are often things beyond that. Anyway, whatever it is, it is.
Two weeks before the elections, you stated that the Georgian Dream was conducting media monitoring and observing only - "Mtavari”, "Formula" and "TV Pirveli" channels. What did you monitor, what methodology did you use, who were the observers?
We were monitoring three TV stations because they were using propaganda against us and we wanted to analyze and record it. We, as a party, were interested in how the propaganda was used against us.
We had three areas of observation: hate speech, disinformation, and manipulation. We also had statistics.
You had both a qualitative and a quantitative account, this is what you stated.
Yes, everything proven with links and so on.
What kind of methodology did you use? Who was observing?
We were observing with our internal resources.
Media monitoring is conducted by qualified specialists. Could your “Internal Resources” qualify for that?
Why not? Anyone can identify the truth, the lie, and the hate speech.
What exactly do you mean when you mention hate speech and disinformation?
We defined it in the report. In short, the approach was such: checking hate speech, misinformation, manipulation.
How exactly do you define disinformation?
We defined it as follows: we would take a story and say whether that was true or a lie. If there was a lie, it was a lie.
Lying is one thing and misinformation is another. Misinformation is not just false or misleading information. Misinformation (which you say you monitored) is defined as intentionally misleading information. There are different kinds of misleading information too.
We were just identifying the lies and the truths. What does it matter if it is premeditated or not?
That's why I asked you about definitions of misinformation. False information is that is something else. To call something misinformation, it must have a preconceived notion or purpose. Now, how did your monitors identify speech?
Using human ethics, how can I say?
That's why definitions matter. Research methodology is important because everything you observe is precisely defined.
Again, we were looking at lies or truth. Because sometimes simple truth about Journalism and Propaganda gets lost in these definitions.
And how accurate is your media monitoring?
No, it is not accurate. We do not want accuracy in the sense that we are not media monitoring organization.
We want to explain people humanely that what ის happening now is abnormal. We wanted to show numbers behind the abnormality that is sometimes wrapped in beautiful words. For example, the "critical media" says "I use swear words towards you and you must be silent, because you have a duty to tolerate nuisance".
When a journalist swears, he/she is no longer a journalist and you have no obligation to stay calm, patient and to listen. This is such a simple truth that it does not need a methodology.
You presented this document as a media monitoring report and said that you were watching these three TV stations with a specific, defined methodology and researching disinformation, manipulation and hate speech. Therefore, I asked how it was conducted and if there were specialists involved. Who was involved in this process?
Our internal resource. Do names and surnames matter?
I am not asking for names; I am asking about their qualification.
Our inner, subjective, partisan, biased (laughs) people, why does it matter?! There is the shortage of specialists in many fields…
Why did you choose these three channels?
Because these three channels were using propaganda against us. One thing is our perception (and I often stand out here as well, because I do not like perceptions, I like to have facts as well). And if we have a perception that these three channels are waging a propaganda war against us and we tell them that they are a political media, but these are just words.
Our task was to study and show how mathematically or factually confirmed our perception was, and to provide these facts.
Media monitoring is done by credible, impartial organizations. Also, the Communications Commission. They have accurately defined methodology.
That's why these monitoring results are often a zero.
Do you think so?
Yes, because, don’t you see these monitorings…
These monitors are independent. You yourself just mentioned that yours were subjective.
Yes, and what is the problem?
The problem is that in this particular case, you only observed three channels and stated at the briefing that these TV stations spread misinformation, lie, hate speech… That brings me back to polarization. does it not deepen that problem?
Why deepens it? The truth?
What do you mean by “truth”?
When there false story and if I say it a lie, this is the truth.
You were only watching one side of the media.
Yes, we are not a media monitoring organization, right?!
So, you showed what you intended to show, did not you?
Our goal was simple. Expose the ongoing propaganda against us.
You then said that these televisions provide us with one-sided information. On the other hand, you refuse to take part in their programs. With that, don’t you strip them of the possibility to cover multiple sides of the stories?
That's why I said from the beginning that definitions are very important...
You also said, "These are not media outlets," but still, you were providing a “media monitoring” towards them.
That's why I no longer use the term “media” and use “journalism”. Media is everything, but there is no journalism anymore. Otherwise, the media is also Russia's first channel and Girchi TV. This is not journalism, it is propaganda.
Now as regards to why we do not visit these televisions. Is this a PR-tactical decision. If we agree that TV X is part of a propaganda, then their task is to show the viewers only their vision of the world - that is the purpose of propaganda. We see it, we know it, we realize it, and it's bad. We do not want these viewers to see the world just from that angle.
What is the solution from here? We decide to take part in their TV programs to show the audience our side of the story. Yes, this is the solution, and therefore I participated in a few programs but then they no longer invited us.
These media say they invite you but you refuse them.
The bridge collapsed, it burnt again. Look at it from purely PR or tactical angle.
In short, you must look at the world through my eyes and you will see that if this is a propaganda, then it is my purpose and interest to break it [by providing my side of the story]. But, at the same time, I know there is a risk here. When I get there, I know it's their job to show me from the bad angle. We are not afraid that we go to these tv channels but at the same time you realize that as you go there…
Do you find yourself in an uncomfortable environment?
It’s not about comfort. Uncomfortable environment is everywhere. Sometimes we still let these journalists ask us uncomfortable questions, don’t we?
One of the most important roles of media is to be a watchdog, to control the government, to be critical, including towards the government, isn’t it?
I do not know, should it be?
Should not the media be critical of the government?
Why do you say that?
Because, in general, you must be critical towards the world. To government, to opposition, to the schools… Why should it be the sole purpose of the media to be critical to the government?
It is not a sole purpose; it is part of journalism. Do not you agree that Journalists’ function is also to be critical to the government to help audience can make an informed choice?
Yes, it should be critical of the authorities as well (among others). We have already broken the logical chain there. Therefore, I asked, what is the definition of journalism? There must be a difference between “one of the tasks” and a “sole purpose”.
You said, you do not accept invitations from the opposition TV channels because you don’t accept the attitude waiting for you there. But you often visit the televisions where you find yourself in a comfortable environment and where you are not asked any critical questions.
Being in a comfortable environment is always more comfortable, indeed. But it is not about avoiding the uncomfortable environment.
If we know that this environment is propaganda, will it allow its users to see the world through my eyes? This goes against their purpose. So, when you go, so to speak, to the heart of propaganda, you always have a risk. You are invited there to become part of their propaganda, to use you for their propaganda purposes.
What about the other TV channels, which you do not decline to visit?
So what? We are in a comfortable environment there and we do not have these risks there.
You just told me that you are not afraid of critical questions.
We are not afraid of criticism. So, I say, between journalism and propaganda…
What about your accountability to speak to the other part of the audience? Are not they your voters too?
That's exactly the reason why every time, after boycotts, we say we're still going to accept the invitations to these TV channels. Because there are citizens who need to hear our side of the story. But these formats of relationship, including impropriety, is difficult.
You mentioned impropriety and regulation many times. let’s move on to the next topic. Let’s talk about our legislation of free speech and media. What do you think about it?
We should not jump; we should move on to this issue. To move on, we need to agree on whether journalistic tasks are being accomplished.
The question is about the legislation.
When we talk about propaganda, what are we talking about? There are two problems that can be present in the media - false information and impropriety. Now, the question is whether regulation is enough or not.
[end of the first part]
In the second part of the interview with Shalva Papuashvili, we talk about the government’s messages about regulating media. Media experts and organizations working on this topic, often rate these messages as a threat towards free speech, freedom of expression and attempt to intimidate the media.