Georgian online media outlet Publika is working to expand its audience with new projects to be launched in the near future.
Director General of Publica, Zura Vardiashvili, looked back at recent developments at Publika and talked about the role of media in today’s society in an interview with Golden Brand.
Publika has been supporting the country’s most prestigious and influential business award ceremony, the Golden Brand, for three years running.
Founded in 2019, and having already won two EU prizes for journalism, the online agency Publika is a non-entrepreneurial, non-commercial legal entity, whose governing body is a general assembly of members.
Q. Recently you were detained during a public protest against the infamous “foreign agents” law for “minor misconduct and police disobedience”, before being released in about two hours. What is the responsibility you feel, as a citizen of the country and at the same time as director of a local media outlet, for the country during such important moments, and what impact did these events have on Publika?
A. Let’s start with the fact that I did not call Vazha Siradze, the director of the police department, a traitor, as I was accused of doing. I didn’t even notice him until he grabbed my hand and called the police with him to arrest me.
I, my colleagues and other demonstrators chanted slogans that we used before in parliament during discussion of the bill — “No to Russian law”, “You can’t make Belarus out of this country”, “This is treason to your homeland”, “Traitors”… It seems that Mr. Vazha Shesha Siradze — yes, he is known by this nickname, because in the winter he used to take firewood [shesha] from the protestors, which they needed for heating — took the slogans addressed to the deputies supporting the Russian law to heart. Or maybe he himself is a supporter of the Russian law and therefore the Russian cause, and took it upon himself.
This was no ordinary protest, nor were my colleagues and I there as activists. We opposed the Russian law precisely as journalists, since it was directed against the media, speech and expression, freedom in general, and we considered it our duty not only to cover these events, but also take a stand.
I think no harm can come from standing on the right side of history, and this was proved by the struggle of hundreds of thousands of citizens who forced the authorities to withdraw their proposed law.
Q. What is the role of the media today in the conditions of information war and how difficult is it to maintain standards of journalism and ethics while fighting propaganda? What is it like to be the director of a media outlet in Georgia today?
A. Yes, the rules of the game are changing. Propaganda refines its own methods, uses new technology. It becomes more difficult to distinguish propaganda from reality. In these conditions independent, qualified and reliable media outlets are assigned a decisive role.
Managing a media outlet in Georgia today means living under high risk, restrictions, arrests, health and even life threats. If you are going to do this, you need to be sure that it is your heartfelt choice.
Q. Please share recent developments and future plans.
A. Publika has always been oriented to innovations. Even now, we are working on various projects to increase the reach and engagement of our media in order to reach as large an audience as possible.
Q. How diverse are the topics or news categories that you offer readers today?
A. We are a public-political publication with topics such as education, healthcare, minorities, the rights of the disabled and socially vulnerable, and others of importance to us.
I think we are meeting the needs and interests of our readers, but it’s not good to stay satisfied for long. We are working on new directions, which we will introduce to our audience very soon.
Q. How developed is online media in Georgia and what is Publika’s contribution to this process?
A. Nowadays, if any media in Georgia are fully developed, it’s online.
Obviously there are huge problems as well, for example financial sustainability. Although online marketing in general is growing, businesses avoid cooperation with critical and professional publications in order not to incur the wrath of the authorities, although even in these conditions, online media, including Publika, play a crucial role in protecting freedom of speech and democracy.
Q. Last year, the total commercial advertising revenue of television and radio broadcasters decreased by 7.6% compared to the previous year. What was the data for your sector in this regard?
A. The exact data of the online advertising market is not considered. This is also one of the problems in this market. However, as a general observation, more and more money is being invested online, although this money is still mainly garnered by the international giants, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tik-Tok.
Q. Publika is a supporter of the Golden Brand awards. Why is this cooperation of interest to Publika?
A. Publika wants to support all activities imbued with responsibility towards such general human values as freedom, equality, protected rights, prosperity. I think that the Golden Brand is based on such values too.