Media Training in Georgia: How Much Bang for the Buck?
June 24, 2010 – 2:12pm, by Molly Corso
Georgia’s journalists have undergone media training for nearly 20 years, but whether or not that instruction is making for better news coverage remains open to debate. Despite the millions of dollars spent on improving the quality of Georgian reporting, no clear way to judge the effectiveness of training programs exists.
While major donors like the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF) acknowledge difficulties in promoting media reform – ranging from politicized news coverage to the lack of a commercially sustainable market — they argue that marked progress in media standards has occurred.
A charter of journalist ethics, the creation of media associations to defend journalists’ rights and the emergence of independent film studios and one news magazine, Liberali, are among the breakthroughs cited.
But more are desired. USAID has spent over $8 million on media programs since 2000 and is gearing up to start a new, four-year $13 million media project that will focus on improving journalistic standards, diversifying media content, defending journalists’ rights and enhancing Georgian media’s “viability.”
A March 2010 breakdown of international donor spending for Georgian media projects published by USAID states that the European Union is spending close to 2 million euro (over $2.9 million) on several projects, including investigative reporting, regional media outlets and professional associations for journalists.
International donors like the EU and OSGF included election coverage within their 2010 media programs, but many of the trainings are geared toward print media and regional media, rather than privately owned national broadcasters like Imedi and Rustavi-2, the main news sources for most Georgians.
Georgian Public Broadcasting receives training from an EU-funded program implemented by the British Broadcasting Corp. The station — a lightening rod for political tensions during the 2008 elections, and a target for 2009 opposition protests -garnered praise for its “balanced” coverage of Georgia’s May 30 local elections in an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s pre-election media monitoring report.
But a lack of clear indicators for success – such as analytical evaluations of donor projects released publicly – makes it difficult to link praiseworthy election coverage to the benefits of media training. The Imedi war hoax is widely seen as the low point for Georgian journalism. The high point has yet to be defined. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
The overriding message from donors, media watchdogs and journalists alike is that success is hard to gauge and expectations should be realistic.
While donors assured EurasiaNet.org that they do perform extensive internal evaluations — often hiring outside specialists to analyze project results — they rarely publish them.
Meanwhile, Freedom House’s 2009 Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores documented a decline in the country’s media environment. The 2009 report ranked Georgia at 4.75 on a scale of one to seven, with one representing the highest level of democratization development. (By comparison, Ukraine scored a 3.5 in the 2009 report.) The score is well behind Georgia’s highest finish of 3.5, received in 2001 under ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze’s administration.
But some international media training donors caution against considering such surveys conclusive. “Are we doing this for numbers? No, we are doing it to get real results in practice,” said Program Director Ellada Gamreklidze, the director of the EU-financed Media Strengthening Program for Georgia, which educated 23 regional journalists on election code changes, as well as how to cover an election. “If something good is done on the ground, it is still good.”
Communication among donor organizations is imperative for any “on-the-ground” trainings to have an impact, commented Tamar Kakulia, the development director at Internews Georgia, an international media development organization. “If you do something on an ad-hoc basis … this is not a system,” Kakulia said. “Education does not function this way. It should be developed as a system …Then we will have an impact.”
OSGF, which has a $900,000-media training budget, is working with the EU, USAID and other donors to create an online database that will inform media donors about each other’s trainings and activities, as well as help donors determine where new projects are needed, said OSGF Executive Director Keti Khutsishvili. “We don’t have the illusion that with 1 million [dollars] we can save Georgian media,” Khutsishvili said. “That is why, of course, we always have in mind other donors, and that is why we are cooperating actively with them.” [Editor’s Note: OSGF, which helps finance the news magazine Liberali, is part of the Soros Foundations Network. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute, a separate entity in the Soros network].
How journalists use the knowledge they gain during donor-funded trainings is another challenge. “Of course it is very tough [for journalists to use their new knowledge], there is no question about it,” commented Internews’ Kakulia. “But there are certain things that they can manage and if they do it in a professional manner, trust me, even Rustavi-2 will not be against it.”
The OSCE monitors found that both Imedi and Rustavi-2 “demonstrated their support for the ruling party and its Tbilisi mayoral candidate” in their coverage of Georgia’s May 30 elections, a vote swept by the United National Movement. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
Smaller TV stations tended to favor the opposition, it reported. Other reports cited more “neutral” coverage by all stations. EurasiaNet.org was unable to reach producers at either Rustavi-2 or Imedi for comment.
One Rustavi-2 reporter noted that it was difficult to get time off to attend trainings. He named experience as the deciding factor for coverage quality. “I think these elections are better than the previous ones and future election [coverage] will be better,” Tengiz Gogotishvili said.
Oliver Reisner, who oversees EU media initiatives in Georgia as the Civil Society and Higher Education project manager for the Delegation of the European Union, stressed that improvement is the result of a long-term process. “You have to be realistic about what you can really achieve. And you cannot really achieve miracles overnight,” Reisner said.