Vienna, January 5 – Yesterday, the Georgian government launched a Russian-language Internet television project directed at the North Caucasus, a program Tbilisi says it plans to expand in a few weeks via direct-to-home satellite broadcasting but one that some in both Georgia and Russia already view as a provocative act.
The Internet television broadcasts, available now at www.1k-tv.com, are intended, the site says, not to offer assessments of what is going on in either Georgia or the North Caucasus but to provide information which, Georgian officials argue, people in the region “cannot find out from other channels” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/163888/).
Among the key personalities involved in this three million US dollar project are Gia Chanturia, the general director of Georgian Public broadcasting, journalist Oleg Panfilov, and Alla Dudayeva, the widow of the first president of Chechnya-Ichkeria, who “has been provided with a house in the center of Tbilisi.
In an interview given to the site, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that the station represents “an important step for Georgia and for the Georgian audience because we must not lose the Russian language,” something that he said forms “an important part of culture and a very important part of civilization.”
Moreover, Saakashvili continued, the new broadcasts will serve as “a continuing source and channel of dialogue within our society and between our society and other neighboring societies and peoples, a dialogue without borders, one without artificial limitations such as border posts.”
The “First Caucasus” channel initially offers four news programs each day as well as additional programming of various kinds. According to Georgian media officials, “70 percent” of the new content will be about events in Georgia. The remainder will be devoted to “news in the world, including in Russia and in the North Caucasus.
As Kavkaz-Uzel.ru points out, this channel is not the first effort of its kind. US-funded Radio Liberty is broadcasting one hour a day in Russian to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a program that the director of RFE/RL’s Georgian Service David Kakabadze says is designed to help solve “the problem of the existing information deficit in this region.”
But if the Georgian effort is not the first, it is certainly the most sensitive. And already today, some Moscow commentators are suggesting that it represents a provocation. Anatoly Baranov, the chief editor of the FORUM.msk site, says that “undoubtedly, the new television channel is not a charitable project and will be involved in propaganda and counterpropaganda.”
“How well it will do this” is a question for the future, Baranov continues, “but from the propagandistic point of view, this is not simply a knockout to Moscow from Tbilisi, it is, using the terminology of Vladimir Putin, the strongest possible kick in the balls,” precisely because “the Kremlin has absolutely nothing to counter it with.”
“Putin’s television like any heavily censored thing will always lose relative to free broadcasting,” even if that broadcasting is less than fully professional and less than heavily financed, Baranov continues, something that Moscow is going to have to think about as it looks to its future in the North Caucasus (forum.msk.ru/material/news/2145243.html).
Consequently, Russia may respond forcefully, as at least some Georgians fear. Film director Georgy Khaindrava, for example, says that “the beginning of TV broadcasting to the North Caucasus will be viewed by Moscow as support for separatism, and Russia will certainly respond with new bombings” (www.vestikavkaza.ru/articles/politika/confl/13735.html).
Whether in fact Moscow reacts in that way, of course, remains to be seen, but the stakes are very high, especially because as “Vestnik Kavkaza” points out, the Georgian channel once it is broadcast via satellite will reach all of south Russia. Indeed, because of its availability online, it already has the possibility of reaching even a larger swath of the Russian Federation.