High Commissioner helps fill the information gap for minorities in Georgia

At 8:00 a.m. every morning, Parvana TV Director Kostya Vartanian arrives at his studio in Georgia's Javakheti region, a predominantly ethnic Armenian area. With OSCE support, the station is now broadcasting daily TV programmes in Armenian, as well as translating news from across the country.

Ethnic tensions have long been a challenge to stability in Javakheti, where 95 per cent of residents have little or no knowledge of Georgian, the state language, and found themselves in an information vacuum. Receiving news mainly from Russian and Armenian channels, they were better informed about events outside of Georgia than in their own region.

In 2003, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, in collaboration with Tbilisi-based Internews Georgia, launched a project to develop two TV companies in Javakheti: Parvana TV in Ninotsminda and ATV-12 in Akhalkalaki.

Genadi Uchumbegashvili is the Executive Director of Internews: "In 2003, I would have hesitated to call these studios TV companies. ATV-12 and Parvana had one amateur analogue video camera and one video cassette recorder each. They could at most retransmit programmes from foreign channels in their communities."

Getting up to speed

Thanks to the joint project, re-equipping the TV studios began in 2004. Both stations now have three professional digital video cameras and three digital editing suites. Their journalists were also retrained by international experts, including specialists from the BBC.

"We now have three news programmes and are broadcasting six hours a day. Next year we plan to increase daily broadcasting to 12 hours and extend coverage to the Tsalka district," says Vartanian.

He is proud of the company he built, the studio interior of which he designed personally. "We look after our editing suites and our cameras - the heart of our news programmes and the eyes of our TV station."

ATV-12 in Akhalkalaki also broadcasts daily news, but another of its priorities is music programming for young people, something they will increasingly focus on.

"Our viewers often call us asking to repeat entertainment programmes, and we'd like to extend broadcasting time in the future," says ATV-12 Director Valik Ktoyan. "We are planning a new programme called 'Auto-shop', which should generate significant profits through car commercials," he adds.

People are listening

Both Parvana TV and ATV-12 began retransmitting Georgian-language news programmes in September 2003 and simultaneously translating them into Armenian, a key part of the project.

Nana Ovsepyan, a reporter at Parvana for almost a year, says that people are very interested in the station's news programmes. She also teaches Georgian at a public school, but plans to continue working for the TV company. "I work for the common good of my people and I will continue doing so with all means available to me," she says.
Simultaneous translation is a difficult task, requiring energy and tremendous concentration. Dali Aghdgomiladze, who translates ATV-12's 8:00 a.m. news programme "Moambe", finds it a challenging job: "I never know in advance what a journalist is going to say. It's impossible to translate every word, but the important thing is that I provide our viewers with the content."
And the audience is listening. "When all three translators were away for a few days of training, it caused a real uproar in Akhalkalaki," she adds. "People started calling us, demanding that the translations be resumed."
Becoming self-sustainable
The High Commissioner's office expects both TV companies to become self-financing in time. So far, OSCE support covers translation costs only, with the lion's share of the funding coming from commercials and donations.
With a staff of 22 people, Parvana TV works with governmental and non-governmental organizations to mobilize funds and support in every way possible. Some of its programmes already have their own private sponsors. The company is also a local Internet provider.
Internews' Uchumbegashvili is proud that efforts to develop the companies have been so fruitful. "Because of this project, we now have two successful TV stations in Javakheti." A similar project has already been launched in the Azeri-populated region of Kvemo Kartli in May 2006 and staff members from the two Javakheti companies will share their experiences with their new counterparts.
The collaboration between Internews and regional TV companies is a long-term undertaking. But as both Parvana and ATV-12 are now able to continue their work independently, the project's primary objective has already been accomplished.
It is 2:00 a.m. when Vartanian locks up the TV studio to go home. "Sometimes I stay here overnight - when there's a computer glitch or something goes wrong with a camera. But I never regret taking up this job," he says.
Written by Written by Mikhail Vardzelashvili and Pavlo Byalyk


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