Tea with Plums

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“The Queen of England has tea with plums and drinks two toasts for breakfast.”

- Mistranslation attributed to a Real-TV morning show host

“The breakfast of the Queen of England consists of tea with cream and two slices of toast.”

- Possible original text modeled with ninety-percent precision

 

After such an epigraph, is there even any need to review the Georgian “media environment”? By now, everyone has a crystal-clear picture of its deficiencies anyway. It is almost beside the point whether that quote was falsely attributed to Real-TV by some wickedly witty opposition politician or it was actually said by the breakfast show host – not because witty politicians are such a rarity but because the quote is emblematic of altered reality… The drive to alter reality is often much more revealing than reality itself.

I personally have never heard any TV morning show host or any other media describe the Queen’s breakfast as in the epigraph. I am even willing to concede that it may well be a fabrication, all the more so because that excludes any unintended mistranslation and gets us right to the heart of the problem. Invention is not as blind as reality may seem; it materializes out of necessity and for a purpose. Here, the necessity is manifest: We reprove not ideology but ignorance. We long for media which will not simply stroke our societal sore points, but will actually tell us something new. Targeted sarcasm is never accidental either. Intellectuals, against whom sarcasm is frequently cast, may stoically tolerate Maestro TV and the 9th Channel – if anything, those media fill necessary niches in a fully democratic society – but the phenomenon of Real-TV causes spiritual discomfort. That is because our civic role as voters necessarily unites us with people with whom we have little or nothing in common. As it’s often said, “politics makes for strange bedfellows.”

The political dimensions of Georgian media are difficult for any person with common sense to comprehend. As a starting point, the terminology is almost indecipherable – absurd collocations; onomastic relicts; conspicuously incomplete phrases. Only one thing is perfectly clear: political candidates who have purposely steered their bandwagon into the misinformation arena and the media-knights they have hoisted aboard spare no efforts to clear any obstacle in the opponent’s path to the hearts of voters.

If political polarization is not the disease and only a symptom, then of what is it symptomatic?

My relationship with that segment of Georgian media some call “free TV channels” and others describe as “opposition TV channels” can be encapsulated with the recounting of a telephone conversation with Maestro. I had been invited to that TV station (I will tactfully refrain from naming the TV program) to speak about the reliability of various election surveys, political activity of the society, ratings of political candidates, and the like. I demurred, explaining that I am not sufficiently well-versed on those topics. “No problem,” I was told. “You are versed in some way, aren’t you?”

The assessment of Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV stations is more challenging because it invites comparison with the ancient period and forces us to demonstrate our erudition. Once it was officially acknowledged, the Christian Church managed to establish itself in the Roman Empire by mastering the administrative system created by a ruthless persecutor of Christians, Emperor Diocletian, and then by using his own institutions against him. Similarly, TV stations established with the means and shrewdness of Erosi Kitsmarishvili and Badri Patarkatsishvili continue to exist almost by inertia. Rote reporting is sold as “journalism” while the lack of professionalism manifests itself in any number of ways: Second-hand reports (usually about Georgia during calm periods between elections) are repackaged from foreign TV channels to fill airtime with “local” stories already told; coverage of “culture” topics which requires a certain amount of creativity and analysis, etcetera.

It is sad that the Public Broadcaster has turned into such a poor imitator of the private TV companies. Its uninspired reproduction of “low-concept” commercial programming proves that imitation is not always “the highest form of flattery.” Some might think the Public Broadcaster does not produce at all….

As for the Russian-language Kanal PIK channel, it is an undeniably necessary counterbalance to the steep Kremlin news slant. The Georgian-based channel would do better, though, to explain to Russians less about the terrible state in which they live and to educate them more about the challenges which Georgia faces.

Under such conditions, it is evident that the polarization of media is every bit the reflection of an underdeveloped political culture as it is a lack of media professionalism. That’s exactly what has given birth to the social media term “Middleman” used to describe a swing voter or apolitical person who is reticent about expressing any opinion through paradigms indiscriminately disseminated by media.

The tragedy here is that bad media have as strong an impact on society as good media. We see that whenever the stupid speak while the clever remain silent, whenever individuals and social groups look to media for a complete and enlightening articulation of political positions and find only one-sided perspectives and the empty language of Maestro and Real-TV.

 

This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 113, published 10 September 2012.

 

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