Georgia: Training Bolsters Local Reporters

Journalists in ethnic Azeri province of Georgia say IWPR has helped to markedly improve their reporting skills.

Georgia: Training Bolsters Local Reporters

Journalists in ethnic Azeri province of Georgia say IWPR has helped to markedly improve their reporting skills.

Friday, 27 November, 2009

Reporters in Kvemo Kartli, a Georgian province primarily inhabited by ethnic Azeris, have said IWPR has broadened their knowledge of local social and economic issues and given them the skills to report effectively on the region’s problems.

In a region where more than four-fifths of the population is Azeri and many of them do not speak Georgian, many locals rely on the IWPR-supported Timer newspaper, which is published in Georgian and Azeri.

“Our newspaper had no future because of financial and personnel problems, which we managed to overcome only with support from IWPR,” said Zviad Devdariani, founder and director of the newspaper.

“The support was especially crucial in the post-war situation, when a lot of other regional publications, with greater assets than us, had to close.”

IWPR’s support for the newspaper started in September 2008, and more than 200 articles have since been published under the programme covering the most important and interesting issues in the region. IWPR gave intensive training to title’s staff, aiming to make Timer a popular and unbiased source of information for local readers.

“It is a very interesting and important publication for the region, with a huge role in integrating the Azeri population. The newspaper always covers problematic issues very professionally,” said Ia Antadze, a media expert who often mentions Timer articles in her radio programme Regional Media Review.

“It is the only source of information covering all villages, and we learn about the situation in neighbouring settlements from this newspaper. The articles are published in Azeri and this is an unaccustomed luxury for us,” said Khanum Ahmedova, a Timer reader from Kizilajlow.

The main obstacle preventing the integration of ethnic Azeris in Kvemo Kartli is their lack of Georgian language skills, which causes tension in the region, since locals feel alienated from the state and cannot receive information about the situation in the country.

“In circumstance like this even one newspaper means everything, the population gets news about the ongoing situation in the country and is able to bring up its problems with the authorities,” said Fazil Mamedov, a resident of the Marneuli district.

“We think Timer has been carrying out this task well and we are very grateful to every person who has supported its operations.”

Timer was the only newspaper available in all six districts of Kvemo Kartli, but it lacked skilled staff, while a disorganised distribution network affected its availability. Following an IWPR analysis, the newspaper became more focussed on its readers’ needs.

As a result, in the first three months of the new approach its sales rose by 15 per cent. In the next three months, they went up by a further 25 per cent.

“Since IWPR started cooperating with us, we’ve felt that our newspaper has become more influential in the region. Every article, more or less serious, prompts broad debate,” said Azer Aliev, a reporter for Timer in Gardabani.

“For instance, this was the case with one of my articles, which was about the poor state of the sewerage system in the Marneuli district. As soon as the newspaper was published, the Marneuli administration began taking an interest in the problem, trying to solve it. Of course, they were well aware that the problem existed, but they had just ignored it.”

IWPR’s contribution has included general training and one-to-one coaching for the newspaper’s staff. In the last nine months, six training workshops on local issues have been conducted for Azeri and Georgian journalists, along with the one-to-one sessions for reporters and editors.

“Kvemo Kartli is a multi-ethnic region and it is crucial for journalists to use vocabulary acceptable to all groups. We had a good discussion on libel and discriminatory expressions in the Georgian media towards minorities. I am glad that IWPR chose this subject,” said Zaur Khalilov, a trainer and executive director of the Civil Integration Fund, a Georgian NGO.

In recent months, economic issues have been in the media spotlight. But the ability of journalists to cover such issues has been very inadequate. The articles they have written have been poorly structured, grammatically flawed and stylistically poor, with regular mistakes.

“Since journalists often have to write about economic problems – a theme of particular interest to readers of newspapers recently – they need to have some idea about economic principles, economic policies of the government and the instruments being used to carry out these policies,” said trainer Nodar Khaduri.

“We can’t expect journalists to display profound knowledge of the issues in their reports after just one day’s training, but teaching them the most essential elements was quite possible. It will be a pleasure for me to continue working with the journalists in the future.”

The journalists echoed his words, saying their coverage of economic issues had improved since the sessions.

“I’ve always found it difficult to cover economic issues, as many economic terms seemed absolutely incomprehensible to me. Now, since they’ve explained to us the basic terminology, I’ve come to understand a lot of things,” said Lana Chkhetiani, a Timer correspondent in Dmanisi.

Apart from journalism work, Timer staff also expressed opinions on other activities organised by the paper. After the Russian-Georgian war in August, the title arranged very popular charity events to help refugees from the conflict zone.

Newspaper staff gathered products the refugees needed, and handed them over to displaced families.

“The first flow of refugees was settled in Kvemo Kartli, they were in very tough conditions, we did everything we could to help them,” said Timer reporter Marika Vardoshvili, whose actions won gratitude from the refugees themselves.

“I will never forget the support I got from journalists. Since then they have constantly covered our problems in the newspaper and always remembered us,” said Soso Mindodashvili, a refugee from the Liakhvi Gorge.

Many articles caused a stir among both the public and the government. One of the articles, entitled “the poorest quality bread”, drew the attention of local authorities, who took action to solve the problem it described.

“Working on the article about how refugees are being fed was interesting, as well as useful. With this article we helped the refugees living in the region. The publication alerted the government to action, as a result of which the refugees began being given good bread,” said Tea Bliadze, the Timer correspondent who wrote the article.

IWPR’s activity in Kvemo Kartli has not been limited to supporting Timer, and it has also endeavoured to improve communication between the government and regional NGOs as well as ordinary people.

IWPR also organised several round-table discussions aimed at drawing the government’s attention to the issues of ethnic and religious minorities, and to the problems of internally displaced people (IDPs) settled in the region. More than 150 people took part in the discussions.

Some 35 participants took part in a round table organised by IWPR in Koda, Tetritskharo district, on the subject of the living conditions of refugees. The round table, which was attended by two deputy ministers from the Ministry of IDP Affairs and Resettlement, was very effective.

“Believe me, our ministry will thoroughly research all problems raised at this round table. There will be no single IDP left without attention. It just takes time, and a little patience is needed. Your round table helped me very much to assess the problems and find efficient ways of resolving them,” said Andro Chulukhadze, a deputy minister, after the round table.

One of the most interesting discussions held in the region addressed the problems of religious minorities. There has been no precedent for this kind of discussion in Georgia.

“The subject of religious minorities is crucial for Azeris living in this region, since it is becoming a habit that all efforts to build mosques encounter obstacles. This is the first meeting when religious issues were discussed in public,” said Vagif Aksepov, chief mullah at the Tbilisi mosque.

“The religious issue is very sensitive, no one dares touch it. IWPR is the only organisation to have raised this subject for discussion. Talking about religious issues suddenly seems quite possible,” said Eka Kevanishvili, a reporter from radio Liberty, after the round table.

“I think IWPR did significant work not only for this region but for the entire country, as the integration process of ethnic and religious minorities is a number one problem in Georgia.”

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