Not a Priority: Barriers to Environmental Reporting in the Republic of Georgia
The Republic of Georgia faces major ecological challenges, including threats to the Black Sea, climate change, overgrazing, habitat destruction, hazardous waste, water quality, deforestation and forest management, air pollution, large-scale hydropower projects, gold and manganese mining, litter, and invasive species. The implications cross national borders and affect economic, political, and cultural relationships on a large geographic scale, in the Caucasus and beyond. Meanwhile, levels of press freedom, autonomy, and news organization survivability have fluctuated since independence in 1991. In 2012, Georgia experienced its first peaceful election-based parliamentary change, and the news media’s ability to disseminate political information was strengthened by legislation requiring satellite content providers and networks to carry all TV stations that broadcast news during the 60 days leading to that election. However, the governing Georgian Dream coalition that won the 2012 and 2016 parliamentary elections has become increasingly anti-press in the past two years, exerting political pressure on news organizations. Within that political and environmental context, this study explores obstacles to reporting on environmental issues. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with journalists, media support NGOs, and environmental NGOs, it finds a lack of analytical and in-depth reporting on ecological issues. Much of the coverage that does happen focuses on discrete events rather than broader investigative examinations of ecological problems. Major reasons coverage include the environment’s lack of priority among news media owners and politicians; staff shortages at news organizations; journalists’ inadequate substantive knowledge about the environment; fake news; and the costs of coverage.