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House in Gori. (Photo: IWPR)
Protest in Tbilisi, 12-Aug-08. (Photo: IWPR)
Woman wounded during Russian bombing of Gori. (Photo: IWPR)
Readers of a newsblog set up by IWPR to provide balanced coverage of the Georgian war say it played a vital role in countering an information blockade during the fighting.
The blog - http://regionalreporters.wordpress.com/ - was launched by the IWPR Georgian office as soon as fighting over South Ossetia erupted, and ran for two weeks.
“Even Russian blogs described [IWPR’s blog] as ‘the most unbiased source’ – an assessment which no other media outlets can boast of having achieved during the war”
Irakli Lagvilava, a journalist from Zugdidi
It was created by Georgia Regional Media Network staff, in response to a series of cyber-attacks on Georgian servers, which led to almost all online media in the country being shut down.
"Soon after the war began, both Georgian and Russian-language web pages were blocked, telephone communication was interrupted and cable television blacked out," said Madona Jabua, a resident of Zugdidi, a city in western Georgia.
"People were more afraid of the prospect of finding themselves in an information vacuum than of coming under bomb attacks. During the war, [the blog] was the most reliable source of information for me."
Irakli Lagvilava, a journalist from Zugdidi, a city in western Georgian, said everyone acknowledged how balanced the blog was.
"Do you know what pleased me most? The fact that even Russian blogs described our blog as 'the most unbiased source' - an assessment which no other media outlets can boast of having achieved during the war," said Lagvilava.
IWPR IT/Technical Manager Mirian Koridze said that the project chose to place the blog on the foreign server worldpress.com in order to protect against any hacker attacks.
Once established, word of the blog quickly spread and it received 20,000 hits on the day of its launch. By the end of the conflict, the site was receiving more than 130,000 hits a day.
IWPR's frontline journalists contributed to the blog, bringing news of the conflict to national and international audiences.
“The blog played an important role not only for Georgian internet users, but also for people, who were abroad at the time and had no access to Georgian media”
Giorgi Kupatadze, IWPR web editor
Lasha Zarginava, an IWPR-trained journalist, said he was one of just two journalists to stay in the Georgian port town of Poti following its invasion by Russia. For several days, as the entire region remained in an information vacuum, he worked round-the-clock to report on local developments.
"Poti was bombed [by Russia] for the first time on August 8. By the evening of August 9, the town was empty. The local television and radio stations were shut down, newspapers stopped [being produced], while national ones stopped [being delivered]," he said.
Zarginava said he was determined to continue reporting from the town.
"During those days, I did not care about my health or life. I only wanted to let people know what was going on in the town," he said.
When the bombing of the town began, Zarginava went off to the site of the first explosion, camera in hand. He was met there by scenes of carnage.
"Pools of blood and several maimed people scattered around were the first thing I saw," he said.
In the ten days it was open, the blog published up to 550 news pieces and articles, as well as 34 items of photo reportage and 7 video reports. Dozens of volunteers helped to collect and process information alongside the project team of editors and journalists.
The blog was produced in the Russian language so that information would be understood by both Russian and Georgian readers, as well as many people abroad.
“During those days [of reporting on the conflict], I did not care about my health or life. I only wanted to let people know what was going on in the town”
Lasha Zarginava, an IWPR-trained journalist, and resident of Poti
"I think the blog played an important role not only for Georgian internet users, but also for people, who were abroad at the time and had no access to Georgian media," said IWPR web editor Giorgi Kupatadze.
Senior lawyer in the education ministry Nodar Megrelishvili confirmed the blog was his main source of information during the clashes.
"[The blog's creators] have definitely done a great job. It was an effective and timely initiative, especially at a time when it was very difficult to obtain unbiased information," he said.
"It also provided interesting and unbiased opinions from both local and foreign experts. The information was invariably objective and verified."
According to Dimitri Avaliani, an editor at the newspaper 24 Hours, the blog was the best source of information available in Georgia during the war, "I am a journalist myself, but I must admit that no other outlet has worked as effectively at this time in Georgia as that blog."
He added that many journalists from other countries - including Poland, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine - called to say how grateful they were that the blog was available.
"I also know that many foreign journalists used the blog's reports in their own analytical articles. I am a journalist myself, but I must admit that no other outlet has worked as effectively at this time in Georgia as that blog," he said.
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