Citizen Journalism in Georgia

Text Lika Kasradze

Nowadays we live in the age of distinguished technological development. In the last 10-12 years fundamental changes have occurred in media and media mostly has been merged with social network. At the present day, in order to spread information it is not necessary to be a part of a high-rated media institution, but uploading the video on “YouTube”, writing the blog or posting the status in social network is completely enough. Recent technologies gave better opportunities not only to professional journalists, but also to ordinary citizens. A cellphone equipped with a voice recorder, photo video camera and connected in internet is a tool, with which anyone can became a reporter. Posting a brief story about accident or discussing a problematic issue in social networks is a guarantee of public attention. According to current determinations, Citizen Journalist can become anyone who participates in the process of obtaining and spreading information.

Modern tendencies have come to stay and been developed in specific directions in Georgia as well. Nowadays Citizen Journalism (CJ) in Georgia is strongly linked to social networks and especially is merged with Facebook. Researches show that Facebook is the most popular social network platform in Georgia. Web traffic analysis tool Statcounter published a graph of the stats of October 2017−October 2018 social media in Georgia, and according to it: Facebook has gained 84.67%, YouTube − 6.33%, Pinterest− 5.21%, Twitter − 1.2%, Instagram − 0.96% and Tumblr −0.81%. (Source: http://gs.statcounter.com/social-mediastats/all/georgia) For receiving information, people started using social media (besides as a tool of communication) instead of traditional media. This tendency is proved by the results of public opinion researches in Georgia carried out by the National Democratic institute – NDI (research process was fielded by The Caucasus Research Resource Centers – CRRC) in March−April 2018. On the Question: “What are the main sources of information for receiving news about Georgian politics and ongoing events”72% refers to TV as a primary source and13% refers to it as a secondary source. Regarding to internet, including Facebook, it is on the second place among information sources; for 18% of surveyed population internet/Facebook is the first source of information and for 25% − second one. (Source: https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI_March_2018_Public%20Presentation_English_final.pdf p. 77, Q 49, 50) The results show that for Georgian citizens TV still remains first source of information, but, evidently, the number of people, who receive information from internet, rises constantly. In 2015 on the same Question “What are the main sources of information for receiving news about Georgian politics and ongoing events” only7% of surveyed population referred to internet as a primary source of information and 20% − as a secondary one (information source: https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI%20Georgia_April%202015%20Poll_Public%20Issues_ENG_VF_0.pdf p. 58, Q 45, 46.) In this survey 87% of people referred to TV as a primary source and 7% as a secondary one. To this end, in 4 years internet/Facebook application as a first source of information has increased from 7% to 18%. Following these figures, it is obvious why CJ has been developed in Facebook platform − for CJ it is the most flexible tool for wide spread of its product.In regard to history of CJ in Georgia, its development, modern tendencies and perspectives, online communication and social media specialist Assistant Professor Sandro Asatiani, Director and co-founder of GeoLab (Geo-Lab is a mobile and web applications laboratory), author of the textbook – “New Media at School”, trainer in online communication and social network channel development, talks to us. He has been working in that field since 2010.

When did CJ enter Georgian reality?

– It is better to start from the overview of the world events. From this viewpoint, Time Magazine has a good tradition – every year it nominates “Person of the Year”. In 2006 Person of the Year was “You”. The main idea was to underline the fact that person of year is each volunteer who publishes information in internet. Before that, for everyone, who worked with internet, it was a job duty, but 2006 was a crucial year, because more Citizen Journalists had appeared having a personal interest to publish information in internet. However, to my personal viewpoint, for Georgia, 2008 was a crucial year; while spreading of information on Russian-Georgian war for many news companies became a problem, at the very moment many Citizen Journalists started appearing. Since that, this field has been developed step-by-step. Notably, from blogging we’ve been shifted to microblogging (Facebook posts to some extent are microblogs) and now we have shorter messages instead of long analysis. And we have stopped here.

What kind of barriers are in this sphere?

– There are some problems for positive aspects as well and the biggest challenge today is fake news. The latest elections (editor’s note: In November 2018, Georgia elected new President) revealed the fact that CJ is being developed, we have volunteers but now it is difficult to find the line between the lie and the truth. There is a boom of fake news. Besides, there are bulling facts as well. Traditional media representatives have some obligations, but Citizen Journalists have no borders. To this end, I would underline the fact that now we are on the stage, when people should study to differ a truth from a lie and avoid sharing of human rights violating information. Hence, the media literacy is very important– habit of critical evaluation of a media product. People itself are a filter. It needs some more effort to study refusing of spreading false. However, when we overcome this problem, the new challenge will arise.

One problem is when people accidently spread fake news, but another one is fake news as a tool of propaganda. There was a trash of troll pages and fake information against political opponents in pre-election campaign from both sides – from ruling party and from opposition. There are some platforms in Georgia, which work on fake news problem (for example Myth Detector), but this problem still continues growth.

Can CJ make influence on public opinion?

– Yes, it formulates public opinion and the example is the US last Presidential Elections.

Latest researches show that the number of people, who receive information from social media instead of traditional media, rises. Will CJ conquer traditional media in future? What is the potential of CJ is Georgia?

– Many discussions are carried out on this topic. My personal opinion is that, analytical part will remain in traditional media. When you need full picture, for example, about business topics, traditional journalism offers you a ready product. But in spreading current events, CJ is preferential.

In Georgia the role of Citizen Journalism dominates in crisis, for example in 2015 (in 2015 Tbilisi was flooded, a significant flood occurred in the Vere River valley in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Flood resulted at least 20 human deaths and struck the Tbilisi Zoo). What sort of phenomenon is this?

– Citizen Journalism is strongly linked to Civil Society. In 2015, social media was a tool. It made obvious that in Georgia civil society does exist. But we cannot discuss this issue separately. CJ is an instrument in the hands of civil society. The more developed is civil society more effectively it will use this instrument. It does not exist separately.

In what direction may Georgian CJ develop in future?

– This process looks like lifestyle of ants. When people started studying society of ants, they thought there is a hierarchy in ants’ society − there is a head ant which directs other members what to do. People began ants’ isolation, and discovered that groups of three or four members were themselves doing their job and did not need a head. In our case, there is also the process of self-organizing; when fake news problem arises, people will produce something new. Facebook popularity conditioned that it (Facebook) was easy to use, which did not require specific knowledge like Windows programs. Nevertheless, new technologies will appear new opportunities and someone will find a new platform. There are discussions that this could be, for example, virtual reality − when you can see your friends’ shape in front of you. It is difficult to forecast future, but it is obvious that new technologies will show us new opportunities of exchanging of information.

 

Nino Chelidze, former active blogger and founder of CJ blog ireporter.ge, founder of non-governmental organization Citizen Journalist Club – CJC and former volunteer trainer in CJ, shares her professional experience in that field. Nino is interested in CJ since 2010. She recalls, that one day, while searching information in Internet, she found out CJ and she was inspired to do the same in Georgia.

“In 2010 I registered web-siteireporter.ge. I was alone in his job. This was the first such type of web site in Georgia. Actually, this was a blog space for multi authors. I had no restrictions for authors, sometimes I even did not know who was the author and topics were also unlimited. For 8 month I had been doing it with great enthusiasm and I liked my job. In 2010, smartphones and mobile internet were not so developed and everything was much more difficult. Then, IREX announced grant call for bloggers and my project won. The project was about regional CJ. I found unfamiliar people for the web portal in regions and asked them to write about their local events. This was pure CJ,” – Nino Chelidze says.

Afterwards, she registered NGO Citizen Journalist Club to participate in the grant project financed by the presidential fund.

“This was large scale project. We had about 260 materials a month and 6-7 thousand unique visitors a day. This was a great result for that period. I had two reporters in each region and I was paying them honorary 10-12 GEL (about4 euros) for each news. The biggest problem was access to internet, especially in regions of Georgia, but this job achieved success. We covered every demonstration in2010-2015 in Georgia. For our website we were doing news reporting from the place of event. It was really difficult to compete well-equipped top media organizations, but we as a Citizen Journalists had a huge freedom. We were working out of journalistic frames and accenting on more specific details and persons. This was a difficult job. And then everything finished. The reason was finances. Nowadays, I still pay for hosting of my page and hope that one day I will come back this job. I miss the freedom I felt in CJ. But now we face different technological challenges, traditional media attempts to adopt CJ and the competition is being grown”, – Nino Chelidze says.

Media literacy and finances – these are main hindrance for CJ in Georgia, to her viewpoint. She supposes that it is difficult for nonprofessional journalists to see a story behind facts and events and then tell this story properly to people. Moreover, lack of finances is also a problem, as it is difficult to work only on enthusiasm. If you make a little research, you will see that most of bloggers on WordPress has stopped updating their media platforms – on the question: “Why Georgian bloggers abandon their blogs,” Nino answers that the problem is the same – lack of finances and motivation.

“Blogging boom raised in Georgia in 2009. I made my first blog in2009. In 2009-2012 bloggers were invited to every corporative or governmental event. Representatives of ministries were inviting us to ongoing projects. And this also finished. Today the room is free for Citizen Journalists. We don’t have separate CJ platforms in Georgia, as like it is in foreign countries. Besides, before Facebook civil forums were very active, now everything is merged with Facebook and information is dispersed. Also, I had attempts to promote information on Twitter but it crashed, there are less active people on Twitter in Georgia“, – she says.

On the question: “Where is Georgian CJ now,” she emphasized that we are not advanced. “Today technologies give much more opportunities. We have smartphones, mobile internet and Facebook live, potential is enormous, but we stopped in that time when I was doing this job. I have nothing optimistic to say. Again and again main reason is finances. This sphere should become commercial and should include educational component”- she says. Some traditional media organizations try to adopt Citizen Journalism benefits and establish mechanism of application of CJ in their companies, but these attempts are still unsuccessful in Georgia. As Nino Chelidze remarked, even Georgian Public Broadcaster failed in such attempt.

The editor in chief of “Pirweli” News Agency Mamuka Kusiani explained that their attempt in CJ project has failed. As he described, project “Became a Journalist of PIA” was tailored practically to any age and social group of citizens, who is not lukewarm towards the events around him/her. The main aim of the project was to raise citizens’ engagement in civil activities and support the access to interesting events.

 

– Project idea intended mobilization of news holder people (equipped with smartphones and covering practically whole territory of Georgia) for Media Company “Clipart” internet editions PIA.GE and M2B.GE. Advanced media organizations in the rest of the world admired importance of CJ long ago. Experience in latest years has shown particular and special activities in this direction, as CJ directly supports increase of citizens’ responsibility. This has been confirmed by plenty of CJ materials. Our media platform Piais opens to receive information from Citizen Journalists. After we do special fact check we always spread information product.

 

What was a benefit for your media company from that project? Was people engagement high?

 

– Unfortunately, most of Georgian citizens, who are socially active, feel comfort and satisfy when publishes information product in social network. In this case the risk that the information accidentally to become a part of propaganda is high. To the contrary, in case of cooperating with a media organization, accumulated information product goes through control and fact check process in line with journalistic standards and in such a case the chance of leakage of propaganda decreases significantly. Hence, I am convinced that soon Georgian society will finally decide to cooperate with professional media organizations, as it happened in Western Europe and the United States. To this end, in the present moment, I only have to save the project as a good idea, because the result is equal to Zero. Project has failed.

Mamuka Kusiani considers hat development of new media is an inevitable process in Georgia and it is already improved to certain stage, but development of new media is absolutely depended on development of social media instruments. “New media has already become an alternative of traditional media. I would not underline especial characteristics in Georgian social media”, – he added.

 

Furthermore, Mr. Kusiani predicts that in parallel of development of civil society, engagement of civil component in media projects may increase in the future.

 

Alt-Info” is a conservative analytical media project. The platform was established by several volunteer young men almost a year ago and aims at spreading conservative values through new media. Platform representatives consider that in spite of the fact that most Georgian population is conservative orthodox, media resources are monopolized in the hands of liberal values-oriented people. Thus, they decide to inform conservative audience. The platform is not financed by any power, even with equipment – voice recorder, camera for video blogs and video editing tools are purchased by platform founders themselves. As the co-founder of the platform Shota Martinenko explains that they faced a strange attitude from Georgian society towards Civil Journalists.

 

“People, who are our web page and social network page users, often complain about bad quality of video voice, video editing, illumination, video graphic and other technical errors, but at the same time they protest that it’s a shame to call people to help the platform financially for development. They want Citizen Journalism product, but they even do not like when we call for charity and to pay, for instance, internet and communal costs. Our society cannot realize that in Georgia people earn too low amount of money to finance their hobbies, and volunteering cannot last forever. We are Citizen Journalists, but we are not well-off enough to finance all expenses constantly. People want service as it is in capitalistic countries, but simultaneously, they want responsibilities as they are in socialist systems. Consequently, if ordinary people do not support civil activism, we have no future” – Shota Martinenko says.

 

To summarize, we can conclude that the main idea of Citizen Journalism is the enrolment of the process of spreading information only for the sake of society’s interests. However, this process in Georgia is not organized and is hindered by some factors. We can discuss weak and strong points of CJ in Georgia. Weaknesses are related to civil society in Georgia which still could not manage to become a strong unit. In spite of the fact that our western partners help Georgia in developing of civil society, the challenge still remains unsolved. I am an editor of Civil Society Portal CSO.ge. One part of the web-portal is Civic Journalism. Time to time I cover regional problems for this website. From my experience I can say that it is too difficult to mobilize people and involve their interest in problem reporting and advocacy process. It requires huge effort from me to gain information from people living in regions, about problematic issues in their local areas. Some persons are really active and ready for cooperation, and their contribution is valuable, but their quantity is very low. On the other hand, there are some cases when CJ really worked in Georgia and made influence on decision making process. For example, in August2018, one of the Facebook users spread photo with the text, where it was declared that in the territory of recreation zone near Turtle Lake in Tbilisi construction process had started and dozens of trees had been cut. This fact resulted a huge negative reaction of society and even civil activists organized protest at the place of the construction. Tbilisi inhabitants demanded immediate termination of the hotel construction. Soon Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze declared that construction process was illegal and gave a promise that the hotel would not be built in the recreation zone. We can say that Citizen Journalism is not well developed in Georgia and faces some specific problems, such as: fake news, lack of civic activism, lack of finances, lack of self-organization, and spontaneity and instability in its development process. On the other hand, it has great potential as it can promote civic protest against harmful problems and make pressure on the government in decision making process. Moreover, Citizen Journalists can play valuable role while crisis is originated and make support in mobilization of society in the problem solving process. Citizen Journalists has a potential to take effect on audience to encourage people to participate in charity local problem solving processes, any positive changes, etc. Besides, CJ often is a good source of information for traditional media as well. And finally, Citizen Journalism is an effective tool of making control and oversight over government; there are many recent cases when one video or photo was a reason when governmental structure or representative of the state power has lost a post because of incorrect attitude.

 

To this end, Citizen Journalism is a tool in the hands of civil society and it is necessary to reform and transform this tool into a powerful instrument, which would play positive role in democratic development of Georgian society.

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