Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: Nov-Dec ‘08

Georgian authorities to collaborate with IWPR on provision of religious tolerance training for journalists.
By IWPR
The Georgian government ombudsman has agreed to work with IWPR in designing a course for journalists covering religious minorities, after listening to a report on the subject by IWPR’s Accent radio programme.


A recent episode of the programme featured representatives of different faiths, human rights activists and parliamentarians who discussed how the rights of religious minorities are protected in Georgia.


“This was a programme where representatives of almost all religious confessions [in Georgia] were given a chance to share their views – something that does not happen very often in the Georgian media,” said Beka Mindiashvili, the country’s ombudsman.


“By bringing up the religious minorities theme, the programme caused us to think once again about the extent of religious tolerance in the Georgian media, which teems with aggressive remarks regarding different faiths.”


He said his had held meetings with journalists to discourage aggressive reporting about religious minorities, but needed to hold training courses to raise awareness further.


“The work with journalists should be more purposeful and intensive, and together with IWPR we can achieve good results. There’s no other way to solve the problem,” he said.


The idea of providing religious tolerance training to journalists was welcomed by human rights groups.


Lela Kartvelishvili, head of the human rights department at the International Centre on Conflict and Negotiation, said the problems of religious minorities were reported on inadequately, if at all, in Georgia.


“The office of the ombudsman has accumulated piles of data on violations of religious minorities’ rights by journalists,” said Kartvelishvili.


“If they ever write anything about religious minorities, they do it one-sidedly. All media only state the position of the Georgian Patriarchate. They ignore the problems of those who represent other religious confessions as if they didn’t exist. Publications containing insulting and offensive remarks are frequent.”


Religious minorities also responded eagerly to the idea of training journalists in tolerance.


Suzana Kalashian, of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said she was regularly vexed by journalists’ attitudes.


“We, the Armenians, are often called the devil’s apostles,” Suzana said. “If I listed all the names they call us, it would take me too long.”


“And the irritation they provoke is often so great that it overshadows some very important problems, like the absence of a law on religion in Georgia. I think the religious tolerance training will do a lot of good.”


The training cycle is due to be launched in February of 2009.


The twice-monthly Accent programme is produced as part of IWPR’s Georgia Regional Media Network Project, involving journalists from around the country.


It is broadcast by four popular radio stations in Georgia, and aims to improve the flow of news and information to the country’s regions and breakaway territories.