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Journalists Tour Georgian-Abkhaz Border

IWPR press trip helps Georgian television journalists gain better understanding of situation in tense region.

An IWPR reporting mission took Georgian television journalists to the border with Abkhazia to enable them to gain a more nuanced view of the situation in areas located close to the breakaway republic.

The Georgian media tends to represent this region as a constant scene of conflict, according to Beka Bajelidze, IWPR Caucasus operations director. Journalists often rely on press releases and other second-hand sources without checking facts for themselves, he added, leading to a sometimes skewed impression of local life.

“The aim was to address that exaggeration by the mainstream media and let the journalists see with their own eyes what was in fact happening at the border,” Bajelidze said. “It is all about improving the reporting from the areas adjacent to the conflict zone.”

The August 28-30 trip to the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region saw seven journalists, all graduates of IWPR’s conflict reporting school who work for national broadcasters, visit a number of sites where they met municipal officials, villagers and local journalists.

Participants spent time in Ganmukhuri and Anaklia, villages on Georgia’s Black Sea coast in the Zugdidi district which borders Abkhazia and where the Georgian government is now building a five-star hotel complex.

“I was greatly impressed to see the villages,” Dato Kakulia of Rustavi-2 television said. “Only a short while ago these were God-forsaken places, but they have changed so noticeably. There’s a gigantic embankment running across the Ganmukhuri beach that serves as the conditional border between Georgia and Abkhazia.

“The Abkhaz part of the area looks abandoned and wild, while on the Georgian side we have a beautiful beach crowded with holidaymakers, fashionable bungalows and hotels.”

The journalists also visited Jvari, where the Inguri hydroelectric power station is located.

Ever since the Georgian-Abkhaz war of the early Nineties, the Georgian side has controlled the station’s reservoir, with the rest of the plant lying within the breakaway republic’s territory.

Western Georgia relies on the Inguri dam for most of its supplies of electric power, while it is the only source of electricity for the whole of Abkhazia.

“I cover military issues and everything that relates to conflicts is my brief,” Giorgi Tukhareli, of the military television station Sakartvelo, said. “While Inguri is directly connected to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, we have never seen it before. Thanks to the mission, we now know that the plant is the only place where the Georgians and Abkhaz have been cooperating since the end of the war.”

The journalists said the trip had given them ideas for future reports and asked for IWPR to organise similar missions.

“Everything I saw made a strong impression on me,” Sakartvelo TV station camera operator Alexander Gabelia said. “The IWPR-organised mission was very useful to me. On the last day of the trip, an idea was suggested that IWPR and Sakartvelo television should organise a joint trip to the areas near the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian de facto borders.

“A series of documentaries covering each day of the visit would be produced, and a ceremony held to present the films before they are aired by Sakartvelo.” 

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