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News

Posted on: 17 Dec 2015

Monitoring Editorial Policy of TV News Programs

November 1-30, 2015

Introduction

With the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the Media Development Foundation is implementing the project, which aims at strengthening editorial independence of the media and improving professional standards of journalists. Within the framework of the project, one-year monitoring of media content will be conducted to outline editorial policies of TV news programs and create a factual database necessary for further analysis.

This second report highlights the key findings of a month-long monitoring conducted from 1 to 30 November, 2015. 

Methodology

The subjects of monitoring: Rustavi 2, Imedi, Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Maestro, Tabula and GDS.

The TV channels that take leading positions in the Nielsen Television Audience Measurement’s (TVMR) ratings and broadcast daily news programs were selected as the subjects of monitoring. Studies on media ownership by Transparency International Georgia concerning political and financial affiliations of TV companies have also been taken into consideration during the selection process, as they allow identification of different editorial policies. It should also be noted that the selected TV companies do not have equal broadcast coverage areas or human and financial resources that affects the diversity in programming. The goal of this study, however, is to demonstrate tendencies based on the content, rather than on quantitative data.

Study of the TV news programs’ editorial policies is conducted through daily monitoring of their prime time news programs, except weekends. These programs are: Kurieri, Rustavi 2 (9pm); Qronika, Imedi (8pm); Moambe, GPB (8pm); Kontaqti Rvaze, Maestro (8pm), Fokusi, Tabula (7pm); 20/30, GDS (8:30pm).

The study is conducted employing both quantitative and qualitative methods.

The priority topics of the main news program, which are analyzed according to selection of main topics for the first and second blocks of news programs, as well as according to the format (story, footage, placement in the program) of topics of public interest are subject to monitoring. In case of GPB, where the news program (Moambe) is not separated by commercials and commercial breaks, the separation is made based on conditional minutes (the first 15-20 minute intervals). Editorial policy is also assessed through identifying the missing topics of high public interest[1]. Similarities and differences are identified and media outlets with identical information policies are compared during qualitative analysis.

Comparison of TV channels’ news programs is made according to thematic programming. Weather, international news (if not related to Georgia’s foreign policy or domestic affairs), culture and sport (if not related to any political or public development in the sphere of culture or sport, and if only the sport and culture issues are covered) are omitted during the analysis.

Monitoring of the main news programs for November 1-30 has revealed the following tendencies:

Similar priority topics:

  • In terms of reporting on priority topics, only 7% of priority topics covered by news programs coincided with each other. In particular, the priority topics of all news programs for November included the developments around Rustavi 2 TV, as well as the wiretapped recordings of former Georgian officials leaked on the Ukrainian website.
  • In terms of news programming, the greatest similarity in priority topics was revealed between Rustavi 2 TV and Tabula. These two TV channels prioritized common or similar topics. Frequently, even the sequence of topics coincided with each other. For example, on November 13, only Rustavi 2 TV and Tabula aired as the third story the resolution initiated by the opposition politicians (UNM) against remanding Rustavi 2 TV supporters in custody.
  • In terms of programming, a different tendency was revealed by Qronika news program aired by Imedi TV and Kontaqti aired by Maestro TV. In addition, Maestro TV was distinguished not only by priority topics, but, in some cases, by covering a number of different issues in its news program. For example, on November 11, when Rustavi 2 TV case was the priority topic for all news programs, Maestro TV started its news program with assessments about MP by-elections held in Sagarejo on October 31. This issue was not top news and therefore other televisions did not prioritize it. Moreover, it was only Maestro TV that covered the Sagarejo by-elections on that day. In addition, most topics covered by Maestro TV on November 11 were not similar to those covered by other news programs. 

Table No 1. The November 11 news programs


Tendency of political news coverage 

The results of monitoring have made clear that TV channels dedicated a great part of their news programs’ schedule to political issues. Four major tendencies were revealed in common topics: 1. Coverage of news stories containing criticism towards the current authorities, involving the government’s ineffective work; negative international assessments; facts of accusing the government of pressure by some citizens or coverage of indecent acts by some officials; 2. The activities carried out by the authorities, involving coverage of the government’s work, visits, meetings, positive international assessments, studies and reports; 3. Criticizing the opposition that was mostly limited by airing the stories slamming one particular political party – the United National Movement (UNM); 4. Opposition’s activities. 


Stories involving criticism of the government

  • The monitoring has revealed that two TV channels – Rustavi 2 and Maestro covered more stories containing criticism of the current government. In most cases, the stories were about the government’s ineffective work and protest expressed against it. For example, on November 30, Rustavi 2 aired as its first story and Maestro TV as its third story the issue of free canteens in connection with the remarks made by Rima Beradze, member of the Tbilisi City Assembly. Journalists tried to clarify whether the food worth 1.18 Tetri allocated to socially vulnerable people meets the requirement for average daily consumption of calories per person. Despite the remarks made by some representatives of the Tbilisi City Hall, according to which the menu of free canteens was made in full compliance with the requirements, in the stories the beneficiaries complained not only about a small amount of food, but also about its quality, while experts talked about the need of its changing and increasing its amount.
  • TV channels Imedi, GPB and Tabula covered the stories containing criticism of the government with almost the same intensity. As far as GDS is concerned, it covered fewer stories with criticism towards the current government than others.

Coverage of the government’s activities

· In terms of coverage of the government’s activities, GPB took a leading position and it mostly covered the stories about governmental visits, meetings and government’s effective work. For example, in its November 3 news program, GPB aired the story about complete rehabilitation of the highway damaged by the June 13 flood. Other TV channels did not cover this issue at all.

· Rustavi 2 TV came next in terms of covering the government’s activities, which, like GPB, dedicated most of its stories to coverage of foreign visits and activities of various government agencies. Maestro TV was the third, followed by Tabula, Imedi and GDS.

· It should also be noted that in the part of international assessments, one and the same topic could simultaneously become the subject of the criticism-containing, as well as the neutral coverage . For example, the November 26 news programs covered the stories about debates on the issue of Georgia in the European Parliament. GBP and Rustavi 2 covered the same topic, though from different angles, as the third story and the sixth story, respectively. In particular, according to the story aired by Rustavi 2 TV, during the session in Strasbourg, MEPs focused on selective justice, media and political pluralism in Georgia; one of the speakers tore Stalin’s photo into pieces and noted that Georgia distances itself from the Soviet past. Another speaker spoke about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s private interests. GPB covered the European Parliament’s session only partially and its story did not contain criticism expressed towards the Georgian government that, for its part, can be considered as an example of biased coverage. 

Stories involving criticism towards the opposition

· GDS was leading in terms of airing the stories involving criticism towards the opposition. It should be noted that these stories were critical of one particular opposition party – the United National Movement (UNM). A share of the stories involving criticism towards the opposition aired by the TV channel’s news program in total news programming schedule was six times more than the shares of stories on the same topic aired by other TV channels, which were represented by almost the same indicators.

· In some cases, GDS covered the stories containing criticismof the previous authorities and the investigations into those high-profile cases that took place under their rule. For example, GDS’ November programming contained a number of issues, involving the facts of prison torture, where former inmates were demanding punishment of all perpetrators; the demand of Igor Giorgadze’s (former minister of security, accused in organizing terroristic act against President Shevardnadze) supporters to aggravate punishment for Akhalaia and Merabishvili (former UNM ministers), where they condemned illegal actions carried out against them in 2005-2006; demand of former prisoners charged with the attempt of coup d’etat over the operation Enveridated back to 2010, where they requested legal lifting of the status of the accusedfrom them.

Opposition’s activities

As far as the opposition’s activities are concerned, Tabula covered this issue most intensively. This TV channel was distinguished by comparatively intensive coverage of UNM’s activities. For example, only Tabula aired the story on UNM’s anti-crisis plan involving abolition of profit tax. Tabula was followed by Rustavi 2, GDS, GPB and Maestro. As it appeared, Imedi TV covered the opposition’s activities with less intensity.  

Different information policy

The monitoring has revealed the most visible difference in Maestro’s information policy:

  • The stories covered by Maestro TV were frequently different from those covered by other TV channels both thematically and in terms of prioritization.
  • The clearest difference was observed on November 10, when the first story aired by the most news programs was about the messages of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, , Federica Mogherini, whereas Maestro aired this issue as its tenth story. The TV channel prioritized the issue of seizing a large amount of money robbed from the cash-in-transit vehicle belonging to the Bank of Georgia. 

Table No 2. The November 10 news programs


  • Maestro TV’s November 26 news program dedicated its first story to the meeting between the French and Russian Presidents in Moscow. The French President’s visit was covered through a journalist’s live broadcast and the news story also contained remarks made by Russian State Duma lawmakers. It should be noted that other TV channels, except Imedi, did not cover this issue as a separate topic. Imedi TV covered the issue as its 18th story in the third block in a form of overlapping. Among the main topics of other news programs for November 26 were parliamentary hearings on confirmation of new Chief Prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, as well as the 6th Forum of Eastern Partnership, which was covered by Maestro as its ninth story in a form of overlapping.

Table No 3. The November 26 news programs


Discussion of separate cases 

Lexical manipulation

  • The fact of lexical manipulation was observed in the November 2 news program of GDS . In particular, a journalist gave the following assessment to the issue of wiretapped recording between ex-President Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia, the Head of Rustavi 2 : "The Bloodshed announced by Saakashvili”, although neither the authenticity of the recording, nor the issue of its legality had been clarified. In addition, the word "announcement” did not comply in its essence with covering the issue through the observance of ethical standards.
  • Moreover, it should be noted that starting an investigation into the wiretapped recordings and questioning all persons involved in them was the priority topic of the November 4 news programs. When reporting on this topic, Rustavi 2raised the issue of authenticity of recordings and legality of opening the investigation and dedicated the second story of its news program to it. Tabula TV also showed interest towards the legality of launching the investigation. GPB aired the story related to wiretapped recordings with a title "Investigation under Article 315,” the first part of which involves the accusation of "conspiracy, attempt of coup d’etat or subversion”. 

Independent topics

  • Independent topics, which mostly aimed at reporting on investigative journalism, were aired by Rustavi 2, Maestro and GDS news programs. Moreover, Rustavi 2 and Maestro mostly aired the stories critical of the current authorities and GDS aired the stories critical of the previous authorities. In addition, Rustavi 2 TV aired the stories in its news program critical of one particular person, Bidzina Ivanishvili. For example, the fifth story of Rustavi 2 TV’s November 24 news program covered the case of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s former partner, Arcadi Gaydamak. The Russian-born billionaire, who previously led the Russian bank Rossiiskii Kredit and was hiding for six years, finally surrendered himself to France authorities. He was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison by a French court for masterminding the trafficking of Soviet-made weapons to Angola during its civil war in the 1990s. In the story, the opposition spoke about Ivanishvili’s links with the Angolagate case. Other TV channels did not cover this issue even during the following days. But judging by the information about ex-PM Ivanishvili, it is of high public interest and therefore the issue can be considered a topic omitted by other TV channels rather than an independent topic.
  • Maestro TV covered in its news program, in frequent cases, comprehensively investigated independent topics, which were prepared through requesting public information. Some stories were critical of the current government and reported on high salaries, bonuses, additions or non-purposeful spending by some government officials. For example, the November 20 news program aired the story titled "Highest-paid employee of the Tbilisi City Hall”, which was about a high salary of one of the employees of the Public Relations Department at the Tbilisi City Hall. The name of this employee was not identified in the story, but it was emphasized that the salary of this person even exceeded Mayor Davit Narmania’s salary.
  • The stories on independent topics prepared by GDS TV were mostly critical of the previous authorities and covered the assessments made by negatively disposed respondents. On November 9 the TV channel dedicated the fourth story of its news program under the title "Profession - Raider” to the appearance of UNM supporter, Badri Basishvili at the rally in the yard of Rustavi 2 TV headquarters in Tbilisi. According to the long story, under the previous authorities, Basishvili was organizing raids and violent actions against protesters.  


 

Important topics omitted from news programs

  • GDS had the highest indicators in terms of omitting the topics of relatively high public interest that may be related to insufficient time allocated for news program; it may also be related to its editorial policy, where certain peculiarities were revealed. In particular, the topics omitted by the TV channel mostly covered the stories critical of the current government, as well as criminal incidents and issues covering conflict regions. For example, GDS did not cover the statement made by State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili, which triggered sharp assessments from both the ruling coalition and the opposition. The society slammed the minister for his opinions voiced in the statement, according to which Abkhazia has never been a part of independent Georgia.
  • Tabula TV covered official visits to a lesser extent that may be related either to the lack of necessary resources, or to the information policy. However, it should be noted that the news program dedicated the greatest part of its programming to coverage of the government’s activities.
  • Maestro TV also mostly omitted the stories critical of the government; however, this fact could not serve as an indicator of information policy, since Maestro had absolutely different, in-depth stories, which somehow covered the issues critical of the government or its separate representatives.
  • The important topics omitted by GPB revealed the issues both critical of the government and covering its activities.
  • Like GPB, Imedi TV also omitted the issues both critical of the government and covering its activities. It demonstrated a different tendency by omitting the topics on conflict regions.
  • Rustavi 2 TV omitted the topics of public interest to a lesser extent. Among the omitted topics were conflict regions, criminal cases and, almost equally, the issues critical of the government and covering its activities.

Timeline of important topics omitted from news programs 

Thematic diversity

  • In terms of programming, TV channels showed more or less different tendencies. Among the priority topics of Rustavi 2 TV’s November news programs were politics, media and foreign relations. It appeared that the TV channel covered social topics and conflict regions to a lesser extent.
  • Politics, foreign relations and criminality were among Imedi TV’s priority topics. It was revealed that Imedi TV covered judicial and social issues to a lesser extent.
  • As far as GPB is concerned, it was distinguished from other TV channels by a diversity of covered topics. However, politics was a priority topic here too, followed by foreign relations and judiciary. Media, criminality, conflict regions and social issues were covered with equal frequency. It should also be noted that GPB and Maestro covered the topic of conflict regions more extensively than other TV channels.
  • Like Rustavi 2 TV, Maestro TV also covered politics, media and foreign relations as its priority topics. It aired the stories covering judiciary and social issues less extensively than other televisions.
  • Politics was a priority topic for GDS accounting for 52% of all stories covered in its news programs, followed by judiciary, criminality and culture. The TV channel covered conflict regions less extensively.
  • The biggest share of Tabula’s thematic programming also comes to politics. The TV channel extensively covered judiciary and foreign relations.
  • Thus, the monitoring has revealed that politics is a priority topic for all TV channels. Most news programs provided extensive coverage of foreign relations, media and law, while social, business and economic issues were covered less extensively.


[1] "g) Public interest – the interest within society (and not a simple curiosity of individuals) to the events related to the exercise of public self-government in a democratic state; The Law of Georgia on the Freedom of Speech and Expression

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