Lessons from the Georgian Media’s Coverage of Corruption Research
Georgia’s showing in the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), unveiled by Transparency International on December 9th, was impressive. But the Georgian media’s coverage of the GCB was even more striking. The story was the lead on all the main evening news programs, with Rustavi 2 devoting eight minutes to it and Imedi devoting four and a half. Public Broadcasting’s main evening news program topped them all, with nine minutes of uninterrupted coverage devoted to the GCB. The coverage was full of blunders and missed a lot of interesting nuance. Among the most minor of them, Transparency International was presented as a “reputable international research organization” studying corruption for the benefit of businesses (Rustavi 2), and comments of TI Georgia were not aired (all three national channels). But there were more damaging mistakes. Rustavi 2 told the public that the “level of corruption is three percent in Georgia” (we don’t quite know what this means) and that the corruption levels of different institutions were studied (also untrue). In reality, the GCB is a public opinion survey done worldwide. In Georgia three percent of the 500 Tbilisi residents surveyed reported that they themselves paid a bribe during the past 12 months. This is indeed one of the lowest rates worldwide. However, more than one third of those surveyed (38 percent) either refused to answer or declared they did not know. The respondents’ confusion on whether they have paid a bribe or not can be interpreted as being uncertain whether some payments they have made were official or not. This is an intriguing piece of information the journalists could have done more to investigate further. The public was asked to rate different institutions on their levels of corruption. The church, military and police were indeed rated as the least corrupt, as reported in the Georgian media. But while the TV reports cited political parties as the most corrupt, they failed to mention that the judiciary scored just as poorly, scoring 2.9 on a scale where 1 is clean and 5 is extremely corrupt. Instead, Public Broadcasting showed an interview citing another survey conducted by UNDP that indicated that 94 percent of those surveyed believed the judiciary is not corrupt. None of the media reports mentioned the low scores media got: this sector received only 2.4 points out of 5 on the level of corruption and only 2 percent of respondents said they trusted the media to fight against corruption. Coverage of the GCB was another missed opportunity at informing the public on domestic issues in a meaningful way, rather than using the results for propaganda and bashing a corruption-ridden Russia. Speaking of missed opportunities, another survey of the widely reputed Transparency International, the Corruption Perception Index, was not covered at all by the mainstream Georgian media when it was released in October. That survey indicated a slight, although insignificant, drop in the scores for Georgia after several years of ascent.