It is so pleasant to be mistaken from time to time. When we started the training on reporting parliamentary elections and parliament itself in Batumi, Georgia, on July 23, I was convinced there was no way we could keep all 19 participants for five days. About 400 metres from the Black Sea, temperature well above 30C, high humidity and permanently breaking down air conditioning in the training room were the factors in favour of desertion.
But, much to my pleasant surprise, only one person left due to family reasons, while the rest stayed on. Sweating, cursing the hotel facilities and the owner who dared to give his name (Alik) to the hotel, they all stayed and participated very actively. Sometime I found it difficult to outvoice all of them, trying to express their disagreement. It is Georgia, emotional, friendly and changing at a huge speed.
The reason for their enthusiasm was clear. In October, the Caucasus state is to hold a parliamentary election with the aspiration of changing the political landscape. For the first time the ruling party of President Mikhail Saakashvili is facing strong competition from a newly formed movement headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. And the new parliament will have much more powers than the previous legislature due to recent constitutional amendments.
It won’t be easy for journalists, both from the capital Tbilisi from the regions, to cover the heated election battle. The media is deeply divided into pro-government and opposition outlets, the pressure on and from media owners is high and providing balanced reporting is a tall order.
But we tried to do all we could to give them the necessary toolkit and it has hopefully worked. One of the most encouraging remarks in the evaluation forms said: “To be honest, this is not my first seminar about elections, but this is the first time that I have received complete information and every answer to all my questions. I have also gained a lot of information about parliamentary elections.”