As previously discussed in this series, the lack of incentives to bridge the linguistic barrier between Georgian speakers and ethnic minority groups presents a significant impediment to meaningful minority integration. This language gap is intimately linked with the stark disparities in information access, further marginalizing and isolating minority communities.
April Gordon compiled this article based on the research by the implementation context analysis team at the Unity for Diversity Program, administered by the UN Association of Georgia.
This is the third in a series of articles that explore the underlying incentives and disincentives driving minority integration in Georgia. Also in this series:
- Toward Inclusion: Understanding the Path to Unity in Georgia
- Bridging Divides: Language and Integration in Georgia
Georgia’s information landscape is dominated by television, which inadvertently widens the communication gap between ethnic minorities and the majority population. Coverage is dominated by three national stations – Imedi TV, Mtavari TV, and Rustavi 2. The Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), though legally obliged to offer minority-language programming, largely fails to serve its purpose of integrating Georgia’s mediatic and public space. This leaves regional voices, particularly those of ethnic minorities, largely unheard by the rest of the country and confined to specialized, mostly online publications.
Information Infrastructure: widening the gap
TV leads as a source of information and opinions country-wide. In the regions, TV stations are also the main source of information, since access to the internet is uneven. In 2021, an overwhelming majority of the population (87.9 percent) used TV as a source of information. Television was ranked as the most utilized source of information to receive news about Georgia’s current events by all citizens, regardless of their ethnic background.
Internet and social media are narrowing the gap and were also highly rated as a source of information for Georgians, regardless of their ethnic background. Official statistics show that the share of households with access to the internet grew from 70.1 percent in 2016 to 88.4 percent in 2022. However, the gap between rural and urban areas is apparent: rural Georgians are less likely to have computers and access to broadband internet connections.
Fiber-optic cable infrastructure is underdeveloped in regions far from the capital, affecting the quality of connections. High-quality internet is unevenly distributed in the country – more than half of the country’s optical Internet users live in Tbilisi. In 2014, the government announced plans to build a high-speed fiber-optic backbone and backhaul networks to serve 2,000 settlements by the end of 2020. But the program stalled in 2019, due to competing private interests and the high costs of the project.
Multilingual Programming: the missing link
The absence of multilingual programming further exacerbates the isolation of ethnic minorities. National and regional TV stations broadcast almost exclusively in the Georgian language. Regional broadcasters often lack the resources to produce original content and broadcast content produced by outside companies. There are a handful of regional stations that either broadcast fully in minority languages (such as Armenian ATV 12 and Parvana TV), also and Russian (TOK TV), or produce just a portion of content in minority languages (such as TV9 or Marneuli TV).
Georgia’s Public Broadcaster (GPB) is mandated by law to be inclusive of minority needs and to “reflect ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious, age and gender diversity of the society within programs.” GPB broadcasts news programs in Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani languages. It also hosts an online platform with content in seven languages (Georgian, Abkhazian, Ossetian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, English and Russian).
At the same time, shortcomings in the execution of this mandate are widely acknowledged. Georgia’s State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration notes, “The news provided by the Public Broadcaster and other regional TV channels in ethnic minority languages are scarce, and the quality and intensity of the news need further improvement.”
Newscasts are typically translations of the Georgian language news programs rather than content specifically targeting ethnic minorities, and regional news and events are seldom covered. In addition, a large portion of multilingual content produced by the Public Broadcaster is only available online, creating further obstacles to access. Sources suggest that the failure of the GPB to fulfill its mandate is primarily due to a lack of effective accountability mechanisms.
Ethnic minority-run media outlets attempt to bridge the gap, but funding constraints limit their reach and impact. Two of the largest ethnic minority-run radios are FM Radio Marneuli, available in Azerbaijani, and FM Radio NOR, available in Armenian. JNews.ge is a prominent newspaper based in Akhalkalaki that reports news in Georgian, Russian, and Armenian. Some local media with limited resources use social media very effectively to expand their audience and reach. For example, Parvana TV and ATV 12 in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Marneuli TV in Kvemo Kartli are particularly active on social networks and provide news to their readers through Instagram. Nevertheless, despite several successful examples, ethnic minority-run media lack funding, and their impact is described by key informants as relatively limited, especially when it comes to bridging the information gap.
The Impact of Informational Isolation
The dearth of reliable information in languages spoken by minorities pushes them towards foreign media sources, creating an informational divide whereby neighboring countries (especially Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) become primary news sources. Ethnic minority communities thus often exist in a different informational ecosystem from the ethnic Georgian community. This divide limits their understanding of broader Georgian society and also renders them vulnerable to external influences, including malign information, jeopardizing social cohesion.
The State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration notes that, due to these gaps in the information landscape, ethnic minorities “prefer to receive information from the channels of neighboring countries that negatively affect their attitudes toward the ongoing developments in the country, affects the integration process as a whole and creates fruitful ground for disinformation.”
Bridging Information Divide: a call to action
Addressing the information gap demands a comprehensive strategy. First and foremost, investments in education are vital. Qualified teachers, bilingual teaching materials, and comprehensive language programs can empower ethnic minorities, help bridge the linguistic gap, and foster inclusion.
Second, improving internet infrastructure and digital literacy in rural areas can also help bridge the digital divide. Ensuring equal access to information can empower ethnic minorities and facilitate their active participation in information space – hoping that their civic voice would also carry better.
Third, enhancing multilingual programming in traditional media and online platforms is crucial. The Public Broadcaster must fulfill its mandate, providing diverse, multilingual content that resonates with all Georgians. Experimental approaches here – like subtitling, which is not widely practiced in Georgia, or investing in and using AI for translations – are worthy of public funding. Adequate funding for minority-run media outlets can amplify local voices and create a sense of belonging.
Lastly, fostering a national dialogue on inclusivity and shared identity is imperative. Initiatives promoting intercultural exchanges, dialogue, and cooperation among ethnic groups can nurture mutual respect and understanding. Emphasizing shared Georgian identity while celebrating its diverse cultural heritage can instill a sense of belonging and unity among all citizens.
In conclusion, acknowledging the language gap is the first step towards bridging the information divide. By investing in education, improving information access, enhancing multilingual programming, and fostering a shared identity, Georgia can pave the way for a more integrated information space and improved resilience towards the malignant information actors.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Unity for Diversity Program. The contents are the author’s responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government, or the Unity for Diversity Program.