Caucasus: Feb ‘09

An IWPR report on Georgian spy case causes furore.

Caucasus: Feb ‘09

An IWPR report on Georgian spy case causes furore.

Tuesday, 24 March, 2009
A Caucasus Reporting Service, CRS, article, describing the arrest in Georgia of two ethnic Armenians charged with spying for Russia, caused a stir locally, with more than 50 local and international online outlets reprinted it.

It was the highlight of a month in which a survey of local and international reporters provided a snap-shot of IWPR’s contribution to journalism in the region.

The Georgian spy case article, Georgia Accused of Bullying Ethnic Armenians, was extensively covered in a Radio Liberty report that relied heavily on the IWPR investigation.

“The authoritative British non-governmental organisation, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, dedicated a comprehensive and interesting article to the arrest of Akobjanian and Minasian,” said the Radio Liberty report, which abounded in quotations and extracts from the IWPR article.

It called attention to the fact that IWPR contributors were the first to bring to light the information that the two Armenian campaigners were accused of being Russian agents.

Radio Liberty also cited an extract from the IWPR article in which the Georgian minister for reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili, told IWPR that Russian secret services had intensified espionage activities in Georgia since the August war, hiding themselves within NGOs.

Elesewhere, Maria Raudet, a reporter with the German-French TV-channel Arte who plans to produce a series of articles about Georgia, called the IWPR Tbilisi office, seeking to meet journalists who had written articles for IWPR on the state of the armed forces and on refugees from Knolevi village, whom IWPR reported were being forced to return to their homes.

“We’ve read quite interesting reports on the themes that interest us on your website, and we would like to cooperate with you very much,” Raudet said.

IWPR was also mentioned several times in the Armenian and Azerbaijani press, not only because of republications, but also because journalists were referring to IWPR as a source.

After IWPR published a comprehensive report on religious minorities in Armenia and in Karabakh, the editor of Iravunk newspaper, Hovhannes Galajyan, referred, negatively, to IWPR in an article on possible changes in legislation concerning religious minorities in Armenia.

IWPR had written a “heartbreaking article about the sects in Artsakh where the government perceives them as it should: as serving the interests of foreign special services”, he said.

IWPR articles, meanwhile, remain a means of exchanging information for parties in conflict.

The correspondent in Georgia for Radio Liberty, Eka Kevanishvili, said IWPR was the only source of unbiased information about the situation in Abkhazia for Georgian readers. “All other information that has been reaching us is politicised or distorted,” she said. “CRS articles give us a real idea of what is going on in Abkhazia, which I value.”

Since the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, the level of communication with Tskhinvali-based journalists has been poor but is gradually improving.

“Participation in IWPR projects gave me something that many Georgian journalists would not even dream of having after last year’s August war,” Malkhaz Gagua, a deputy editor of Rezonansi newspaper said. “It’s been a year since I got acquainted – thanks to IWPR – with Ossetian journalists, and we are now working on a joint article.

“The theme we are covering is sensitive, but there have been no conflicts between us so far.”

One of CRS’s goals is to give local journalists a chance to write articles free of censorship, a benefit they don’t often enjoy as reporters in the local media.

“On the IWPR website I read materials which I can never read in any other local newspaper,” Ruzan Gishyan, a Yerevan State University Student, said.

Arif Yunus, head of the conflict resolution department of the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, said, “Journalists here, even if they know how to work and what to write about, have no real possibility to sell their articles. IWPR gives them a chance to assert themselves as journalists, to produce objective articles.”

Naira Melkumyan, a freelance journalist in Armenia, said that IWPR “offers a good opportunity to Armenian journalists to realise their potential and write objectively about events”.

CRS articles serve as examples of how balanced and unbiased material should be written, say observers.

“The authors in Azerbaijan have managed to find and share unique material from the very thick of the events,” Chuck Rice, country director of the International Center for Journalism, in Azerbaijan, said. “They should be used at workshops to teach young journalists how to write good reportage.”

“I read with interest nearly all the articles by IWPR that refer to Armenia. They are not only balanced but sometimes contain novel information,” said Tatul Hakobian, a journalist on the Armenian Reporter newspaper.

“This could serve an example for the Armenian journalist as to how a news story should be written for example.”

“IWPR articles are the only source from which we get unbiased information about developments in places from where we were displaced [though] I would wish to see articles accompanied by photos and video footage,” Kerim Kerimli, a refugee from Shusha and chair of a committee for protection of rights of displaced persons, said.

CRS articles are also frequently used as models of balanced reports in colleges. “It is very difficult to find balanced articles in the local media,” Natia Kuprashvili, journalism lecturer at the Alma Mater college in Tbilisi, said.

“I often refer to CRS articles in my lectures, as I know my students believe these are examples of how a good article should be written.”

“As an editor on the look-out for interesting themes, I often read IWPR articles,” Nino Japiashvili, editor of the magazine Tskheli Shokoladi, in Tbilisi, said.

“IWPR frequently covers marginal themes that have long been forgotten by society while your coverage of running themes is invariably interesting and different from anyone else’s.

“IWPR articles are examples of adherence to western journalistic standards, something the Georgian and other Caucasus media lack so badly.”

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