As part of her trip to Georgia, the German development minister Schulze, took part in a DW Akademie roundtable in the country's capital, Tbilisi. She assured support in the fight against disinformation.
Svenja Schulze, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, at DW Akademie's round table in Tbilisi
Russia's war in Ukraine is also increasing political pressure on Georgia's media sector. In 2022, Reporters Without Borders ranked Georgia 89 out of 180 countries, down 29 places from its 2021 position on the World Press Freedom Index.
Many large media houses in Georgia are owned by private individuals with strong political ties and agendas that are reflected in their companies' reporting. Their growing disinformation and propaganda activities, however, are now facing small, regional media outlets that produce critical and independent digital content.
In a discussion with journalists from Georgia as well as Russian journalists in exile and representatives from non-governmental organizations, Svenja Schulze, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, assured additional support in the fight against propaganda and disinformation.
"Disinformation attacks, such as those from Russia, are aimed at weakening our societies. This is true for Georgia and for many other democracies. The most effective countermeasure is well-informed people. Where media can report freely and people know the facts, warmongers don't stand a chance," said Schulze. "Reliable facts and free media are key to successful development in many areas. For this reason, we are working with our partners in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus to strengthen local media and increase the media literacy of the population."
DW Akademie's Managing Director, Carsten von Nahmen, moderated the event.
"Information warfare does not stop at borders. That's why we're committed to the professionalization and economic independence of media, because strengthening free media also strengthens society," said von Nahmen. "People in Ukraine, but also in Georgia, Armenia and Moldova, deserve an independent journalism so that they are able to make independent decisions."
Journalists from Georgia and those exiled from Russia were joined in the discussion by representatives from non-governmental organizations, including Sandro Gigauri from Georgia's Media Development Foundation (MDF).
The Media Development Foundation is offering fact-checking training and an online platform countering disinformation
With support from Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and DW Akademie, the organization has since 2014 offered fact-checking training and an online platform countering disinformation. The Media Development Foundation is one of the two organizations in Georgia that are partners with Facebook's official fact-checking program; they research and flag false news and provide reliable information.
"We do have major domestic and foreign policy challenges in Georgia, and the safety of media workers is also a problem," highlighted MDF's Sandro Gigauri. "However, we have a vibrant civil society that prevents us from reverting to our autocratic past. Georgians are continuing their fight for civil liberties and to counter disinformation."
Disinformation is especially destabilizing when there are hurdles to social participation. Minority groups in Georgia, for example, may speak Russian but hardly any Georgian, if at all. As a result, they're unable to understand Georgia's media and instead rely on the propaganda produced by Russia's state media. To help resolve this, DW Akademie has supported local media since 2020 in producing content for ethnic and linguistic communities and religious minorities. This is particularly beneficial to those living in rural areas. DW Akademie is also training teenagers and young adults in how to verify information.
DW Akademie has supported local media since 2020 in producing content for ethnic and linguistic communities and religious minorities. This is particularly beneficial to those living in rural areas
The joint "Transparency and Media Freedom Initiative" of BMZ and DW Akademie includes journalism training, crisis communication and media and information literacy training, as well as fact-checking and additional projects that strengthen the media's economic viability.
Also taking part in the discussion round were Giorgi Gvimradze, head of news at Georgia's public broadcaster; Mamuka Andguladze from Transparency International in Georgia; Otar Kobakhidze, editor-in-chief of the online portal "civil.ge" and Reporters Without Borders representative in Georgia; Sopio Megrelidze, correspondent for the Associated Press and member of the Georgian Charter for Journalistic Ethics; and the Russian journalist in exile, Ekaterina Kotrikadze, from Dozhd TV, the last independent TV channel in Russia that was closed in March 2022 by Russian authorities.