Ogden on Stalin, Gori and Media Propaganda


From what I’ve seen of life during my brief time on this planet, I’ve realised that politicians have wonderfully short memories. Think of the events of the last week alone: David Cameron, who once criticised tax evaders, has been revealed to have undeclared assets outside the UK; Donald Trump, the prospective King of the United States, donated money to Hilary Clinton’s election campaign of 2008 despite his current anti-Democrat stance.

It is naturally hard to tell if politicians are oblivious to the parallels between themselves and those they criticise or if they are simply capable of taking hypocrisy into the realms of high art. The UNM contend that the Georgian Dream government is controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who in turn is a thrall to a man in Moscow; the fact that another man in Ukraine who is currently not even a citizen of Georgia has thinly-veiled influence on the UNM is something that is either forgotten or wilfully ignored. The circumstances are no doubt different, though the principle remains the same.

I recall a time when the United National Movement party complained about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ownership of TV9, a station which they claimed he used for political purposes. Ivanishvili owning a television channel should hardly be surprising; when someone has bought giraffes, penguins and sharks to keep as pets in his luminous green palace, a TV station here or there is surely all in a day’s spending. The UNM also seem happy to deny the fact that Rustavi 2 is a mouthpiece for the party even in the face of past criticism of breaching media impartiality from Georgia’s international partners and despite blatant bias towards the UNM from the broadcaster itself.

I personally have little love for the current ruling Georgian coalition, but as a member of the media (I am, you know; I have business cards) I aim for impartiality. Oh, left-wing rags like The Huffington Post or The Guardian might express sympathy towards one party or another but never put them beyond criticism, and generally espouse an ideology rather than act as a propaganda machine for a party (unless it’s the BBC; it’s high time Blair’s Beautiful Channel went the way of the dodo).

This week, Rustavi 2 again showed its allegiance over a case of a university employee in Gori. The city of Gori, it should be noted, is the hometown of Stalin, and many of the citizens still like to fondly recall him as the Local Boy Done Good. The rector of the university is an aged gentleman of Stalinist sympathies who came under fire from one of his former lecturers who claimed that she, a vehement anti-Stalinist, had been denied working hours due to her progressive leanings.

Sources claim that the former lecturer’s allegations are simply not true, but the story has been pounced on by Rustavi 2; an episode of its Profili talk show is also being scheduled to be aired soon. My regular readers will recall my complaining over Georgian talk shows needing something new to debate rather than dreadful arthouse sex films, but this was not really what I’d had in mind.

In social networks, the UNM claim that the former lecturer is being persecuted due to the malignant pro-Russian Georgian Dream government, which seems a rather simplistic view of the Coalition. Facts (and the whole town of Gori) remember a fact that speaks of the opposite: the university was pressured to fire the very same lecturer during the dying minutes of UNM rule and they refused to do so. Oh, the woes and pains of having a short memory!

The fact that nobody at the university preaches a Stalinist ideology has been utterly forgotten or ignored. It is a sad fact that in Georgia accusations serve the purpose of truths, while denials are solely seen as further evidence of guilt.

The UNM’s close relationship with Rustavi 2 is hardly a secret (it’s hard to deny a cordial relationship of some kind when there’s talk of barring the doors of the main offices and fending off the police with rifles together a la Davy Crockett; I refer to the leaked phone calls between UNM and Rustavi 2 officials earlier this year), but its criticism of the government for hindering a free media environment while enjoying almost open use of one of the country’s biggest television networks is utterly hypocritical.

As a Georgian citizen myself, I hope for a media free from outside influences (or at least that’s what I was paid to write) whoever wins the elections this year; I’d also like to see people be more outraged at such obvious tactics of using media outlets to further political aims. To my fellow citizens, I say this – do not be fooled by propaganda. And to our politicians, if you’re going to play dirty, at least try and be a little more subtle about it. Everyone knows politicians speak with forked tongues, but liars we can accept providing we know they are intelligent enough to lie well.

Tim Ogden

Photo: Hans Dewaele

14 April 2016 19:53