Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The buses were carrying Georgians living in the Gali region of southern Abkhazia to vote in Zugdidi, the nearest town where they could vote in Georgia’s parliamentary election on May 21. They were passing through Khurcha, a village located right on the border line between Abkhazia and Georgia’s Samegrelo region, when both vehicles blew up.
No one was killed, but several passengers were injured, two of them seriously.
The Georgian government accused the authorities in the self-declared republic of Abkhazia of carrying out the attack to deter other ethnic Georgians in Gali from going to vote, and most of the country’s media followed this official line.
“Georgian media provided biased coverage of the incident in Khurcha,” said Rusudan Pachkoria, a lawyer with the Legal Protection Institute based in Samegrelo.
“The only balanced information I heard was from IWPR’s radio magazine. Listening to the IWPR journalist’s report, where witnesses, policemen, officials and local residents all got to speak, I got a clear idea of what happened there.”
Tamuna Shonia, who had attended an IWPR training event only days before, reported from the scene for the Accent radio programme.
The twice-monthly programme is produced as part of IWPR’s Georgia Regional Media Network Project,
involving Georgian journalists from around the country.
Instead of apportioning blame, Accent’s report presented and examined information coming from various sources.
“Together with several colleagues, I recorded a woman who witnessed the explosion. No one else went into depth and investigated the situation,” said Shonia. “IWPR was the only organisation that covered the Khurcha incident comprehensively.”
“For me, it was a great boost that the editors don’t even try to restrict my freedom,” added the reporter.
The Accent programme was syndicated and broadcast by several regional radio stations which cover most of Georgia. The first-hand information and unbiased angle of the story made many listeners rethink what they had been told by the mainstream media.
“The [Georgian] television stations and newspapers claimed that Abkhaz terrorists were responsible for what happened,” said Nunu Murjikneli, a regular Accent listener who lives in the city of Kutaisi in west-central Georgia.
“One only heard local officials and politicians commenting on the incident. It was only in the Accent programme that I heard someone who had actually witnessed the incident. The IWPR journalist’s report gave me a clearer picture of what happened in Khurcha.”
Zugdidi journalist Irakli Lagvilava, who reported from the scene himself, explained how difficult it is to get media outlets to carry on-the-spot coverage of this kind – his own material was rebuffed by a number of outlets.
“Until then, no one had ever approached local people to get eyewitness accounts. I think the most important thing is that thanks to IWPR, people have now found out the truth about what happened.”
Irakli Machitadze, director of Dzveli Kalaki radio, based in Kutaisi, said, “There is nothing like the Georgia Regional Media Network Project in the media market.”
The Accent reports are available (in Georgian) at www.regionalreporters.net
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