Viable, free media is a crucial component of democratic progress in Georgia. 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and gaining independence, safety of journalists while carrying out professional duties continues to be one of the key indicators of what constitutes progress in the country’s media democracy. This research was triggered by the actualisation of the acute and, in some ways, spontaneous media threat that arose during the pre-election period. More specifically, on 5 July 2021, two months before Georgia’s local self-government municipal elections, media workers fell victim to a premeditated attack by pro-Russian radical groups during the coverage of demonstrations. As a result, 52 journalists from more than 10 media outlets, cameramen and photographers were assaulted and a TV Pirveli cameraman, Lekso Lashkarava, died a few days later as a result of heavy injuries received during the demonstration.The aim of the research is to distinguish the traits prevalent to the media environment during the times of crisis and even more specifically, during the pre- and post- election periods (in particular, during 2021 local governmental elections in Georgia). The research also responds to the question of how political polarization and crises affect media and the macro and micro threats they reveal. The study identifies these media threats and assesses the reality of media environment as seen through journalists’ eyes. For research design, mixed research methodology was chosen, more specifically, a sequential explanatory design. The research was conducted in two phases: the first phase involved accumulation of quantitative data (through online survey: 183 respondents from 56 media sources) and analysis, following which the second phase took place, involving qualitative research (3 focus group discussions).
The research answers the questions as it follows:
- How safe do media workers feel when performing their professional duties?
- What kind of threats have emerged during the 2021 pre-election media environment and what are the expectations?
- What are some of the support mechanisms for the improvement of media environment and what needs to be done so that a safer environment for media workers is created?
During the research process, macro (4) and micro (6) media threats were identified. They are analysed in sub-chapters in greater detail. These threats are interconnected and have their own structure and aims. Media threats, which emerged during the discussion, contribute to self-censorship and escalation of fear, media credibility, reduction of support, and destabilizing media institutional viability.Political polarization and polarization between media organizations were identified as a major macro media threat. Micro threats that were identified as a result of polarization are:
- Stigmatization of journalists and media (labelling them as biased towards certain political parties) and attempted smear campaigns;
- Disrupting execution of journalist duties. Among such actions are creating obstacles in providing a balanced narrative and bringing a quality media product to the public, which is primarily reflected in premeditated restriction to sources and surveillance for the purpose of disrupting the work process; etc.
As a result of this study, supportive instruments for strengthening media environment have been put forward.
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