Georgia : “Making Waves: A Community Radio Project”

 

Overview

Through the Making Waves: A Community Radio Project in Georgia, which IREX Europe is implementing as part of a consortium led by the BBC World Service Trust and in partnership with the Tbilisi-based Association Studio Re, the country’s first two independent community radio stations were established. The stations, in the ethnic enclaves of Ninotsminda (Javakheti) and Marneuli (Kvemo Kartli), broadcast predominantly in minority languages (Armenian, Georgian, and Russian) and are run by a core team of local journalists with significant input from volunteers both on the programming and managerial side. In addition to support from the European Union, co-funding has been provided by the Global Conflict Prevention Pool through the British Embassy in Tbilisi, the Open Society Institute in Georgia, and the Eurasia Foundation in Georgia. Currently broadcasting is via loudspeakers within the local community as the community radios and the project team are still working with the Georgian government to legalise broadcasting the stations’ content.

Background

The two largest minority groups in Georgia are the Azeris, numbering around 500,000, and the Armenians, totalling 300,000.

Around a third of the Armenian minority live in Javakheti, about 250 kilometres from Tbilisi and close to the border with Armenia and Turkey. Ninotsminda is a small town locked in this alpine zone of the mountains of southwest Georgia. The majority of its 3,000 residents are ethnic Armenians, with a tiny share of the population comprising ethnic Georgians and Dukhobors, a Russian Christian group. Frequently cut off from the rest of the country by severe weather, the townspeople live an isolated life with only one local TV station, almost no entertainment, widespread unemployment, no gas, poor water supply, and practically no knowledge of the Georgian language.

The Azeri population is largely concentrated in the Kvemo Kartli region in southern Georgia near the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia. Marneuli is a small city of 30,000 inhabitants, and the majority are Azeri. As many of the local people do not speak Georgian, they are unable to get the information they need from centrally produced newspapers, radio stations and TV channels. Despite their geographical proximity to the capital just 30 to 60 kilometres away, the Azeri population of Kvemo Kartli feels itself marginalised and this frustration is aggravated by the lack of local media.

The community radio approach allows the raising of awareness of diversity issues, the rights of ethnic minorities, and the responsibilities of journalists and journalism. At the same time, the project sees to foster more and better issue-based reporting and improved relations between nongovernmental organizations and the media.

“If this radio had existed when I was young, I would have been famous by now.”

So said the grandfather of Karine Arutyunyan, a girl whose singing talent had been aired. Where once her grandfather’s voice could only be heard at a local church, now the loudspeaker carries Armenian folk songs sung by Karine and her grandfather.

Project Activities

  • Establishment of two minority-community-focused radio stations.
  • Training of up to 20 staff and volunteers for the two stations, in basic journalism skills, editing techniques, management and reporting on diversity issues.
  • Co-productions of relevant programmes by the two stations in collaboration with BBC trainers.
  • Training of at least 120 journalists and media managers from outside Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli in diversity reporting especially with a view to tackling stereotypical representations of minority groups.
  • Training of up to 32 NGO workers in the skills necessary to promote key issues through the media.

The Ninotsminda station gives accounts of news in town and around the country, including press reviews, discussions of topics of the day, interviews with studio guests on diverse issues, and entertainment. The one-hour news show is broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while on Saturday the station offers its own produced programming and summarizes the major events of the week. Other days, music is aired.

Currently broadcasting is via loudspeakers within the local community as the community radio and project teams are still working with the Georgian government to legalize broadcasting the stations’ content.