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Georgia: Mock news report causes panic

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.

Crossed out logo of the channel

Crossed out logo of the channel

On Saturday 13 March, the Imedi national television broadcaster aired a mock news report stating that Russian tanks had invaded Georgia and that the president was dead. Aired at 8pm, the usual time slot for daily news, the nation's most trusted broadcaster (according to the last year's study by Caucasus Research Resource Center) offered its audience the worst possible case scenario of what might happen a week after municipal elections scheduled for the end of May in the country's capital, Tbilisi.

According to that scenario, the opposition might seize power and turn the country into a confederation and ally of Russia. Moreover, some Georgian troops decide not to defend President Saakashvili and instead back the opposition's temporary government. The visuals accompanying the mock report, as well as the anchor of the program, were exactly the same as of that for a regular newscast, aside from a brief introduction informing viewers that what followed was a simulation of possible events.

2E15F01F-7356-482A-86D1-92145A2C61F1_w527_s

Screen shot of mock report on Imedi television – RFE/RL

However, using footage from the August 2008 war with Russia presented in the format of a regular news program caused momentary panic in the country. “Requiem of the Georgian Dream,” as the producers called it, detailed an apocalyptic end to democracy in Georgia after opposition leaders Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Noghaideli, who recently befriended Russia's President, take power.

During the program, which lasted half an hour, some of those living in villages close to the conflict zone reportedly fled to nearby forests to escape what they believed were advancing Russian troops, while shocked people called for emergency help, lined up at grocery stores and ATMs, and cars queued at petrol stations, concerned that recent history was repeating itself.

The private company, which also broadcast the same program on radio,  violated the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters which says that reenactments should be avoided or at least clearly identified as such, while outraged citizens staged a protest in front of the TV station.

One local blogger, Dodka was among the 300-500 people and posted updates on Facebook. Accused by some of being a provocateur because she said she was there to protest against Imedi's actions rather than support the opposition, she also posted some photographs.

protest in front of Imedi TV

Protest in front of Imedi TV by Dodka

ოპოზიციამ, რა თქმა უნდა, შანსი ხელიდან არ გაუშვა და უხვად წარმოგვიდგა, ასე ვთქვათ. თუმცა მთავარი ფიგურა ბურჯანაძე იყო. ჩემი მეგობარი, რომელიც იქ დამხვდა, საერთოდ გამოეცალა და ცდილობდა მოშორებით დამდგარიყო, მაგ ქალის გვერდით არ ვიქნებიო.

The opposition, of course, didn't miss a chance and was represented by many faces, but the main figure was Nino Burjanadze. A friend of mine, whom I met there, was trying to avoid the crowd by standing a bit further away, and especially from “that woman.” [Burjanadze]

Other people also went online to vent their anger. One of the first reactions on blogs and Facebook came from Rocko in the form of an excerpt from the above mention broadcaster's code.

მოგიტყანთ:

  • კრეატივი
  • პროფესიონალიზმი
  • ჟურნალისტობა
  • ეთიკა
  • ნორმები
  • გადაცემა „სპეციალური რეპორტაჟი“
  • მომავლის ხედვა
Fuck your:

  • Creativity
  • Professionalism
  • Journalism
  • Ethics
  • Norms
  • Special Report
  • View on future

Another blogger, Dv0rsky argued that behind the decision to broadcast the program lay with Giorgi Arveladze, Director of Imedi TV, and the ex-Minister of Economy as well as long time friend of the Georgian President, especially after a court in Gibraltar ruled that Ina Gudavadze, widow of the former tycoon owner of Imedi, had the right to claim part of her husband's property, among them shares in the station.

ადვილი მისახვედრია, რომ იმედის ჟურნალისტები არაფერ შუაში არიან დღევანდელ სიუჟეტთან – მათ მხოლოდ ის გააკეთეს, რაც დაავალეს. დამვალებელმა კი ძალიან კარგად იცოდა – თუ ტელევიზიას კარგავს და სხვას უნდა გადასცეს, მაშინ ჯერ ყველა ღონეს იხმარს და ჩაძირავს მას, შემდეგ კი მიატოვებს განწირულ ხომალდს.

It's not hard to understand that Imedi TV journalists have nothing to do with today's program – they did what they were ordered to do. And [Arveladze] who gave this order knew very well that if he is losing the channel he will use any means to sink it first before abandoning ship.

Fazanda ironically addressed a post to those who justified the decision to broadcast the program.

მათ რომ ჰკითხო, თურმე ხალხს არ უნდა შეშინებოდა, რომ ეს შიში უფრო საგანგაშოა, რადგან არველაძემ ე.წ. Wake Up Call გაგვიკეთა და ამის გამო მას კი არ უნდა ვემდუროდეთ, არამედ გულებში უნდა ჩავიხედოთ თურმე.

If you ask them [those justifying Imedi TV's decision to broadcast], people shouldn't have been scared [of the TV report] because it was a wake-up call by Arveladze. They should have been frightened by that, and instead of blaming him we should all be searching our souls.

Other opinions were shared by Sweet, Zurrius, Tiny and Gabo, who were at the theater enjoying Shakespeare's Twelfth Night when the audience started to receive phone calls informing them of the imaginary invasion and death of the president. Actors stopped their performance, but returned after discovering the story was false. Back on stage they chatted with the few people left in the hall, and the lead gave some bloggers the title for their posts after he said that “theater is immortal.”

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.

2 comments

  • […] Det var lige præcis, hvad den hidtil mest troværdige tv-station i Georgien, Imedi, gjorde i lørdags, d. 13. marts. Det beretter bloggermediet Global Voices Online […]

  • […] in Vancouver, Canada. Twitter users commented on the incident, while a month later bloggers were critical of a fake news report which panicked a nation still recovering from its 2008 war with Russia. On Saturday 13 March, the Imedi national television […]

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