THE NEW MEDIA AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE PUBLIC POLITICAL SPHERE IN GEORGIA
Beka Chedia, Ph.D. (Political Science), Head of Publishing Projects, Tbilisi School of Political Studies (Tbilisi, Georgia)
Today, when information technology is sweeping the world, it is commonly thought that the social media have essentially pushed the traditional media aside to emerge as an important factor behind public opinion. This is especially obvious in countries where the traditional media (including TV) lack pluralism and operate under the pressure of the powers that be. Georgia is one such country, where the social media serve as a lifebuoy for the public political sphere.
They provide the luxury of interactive communication, while the traditional media drown the audience in unidirectional information flows. This means that the social media not merely disseminate information, they serve as a platform for political discussions (something which Georgia lacked in the past). It has become absolutely clear that people are not indifferent to political issues—this is confirmed by the heated discussions on the Internet.
According to the polls conducted by the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), the Georgian population prefers to watch entertainment and sports events than to ponder on political issues. This means that the country will not acquire new public-political TV and radio channels any time soon. Meanwhile, the Internet and social media are rapidly developing.
Transformation of the Information Field
Social networks and the Internet have not merely changed the traditional media and the country’s political sphere, they have changed the cornerstone of the country’s political communication.
In the last few years, the Georgian electronic media have abandoned political issues to concentrate on entertainment, which means that the political parties and political figures have moved, albeit partially, to the virtual sphere to discuss public and political issues; this, in turn, has encouraged the social media.
The number of Internet users is rapidly rising: in 2000, there was no more than 400; whereas by 2009, this number had reached approximately 20 thousand. According to the U.N. ITU, today there are 1,300,000 Internet users in Georgia (about 28.3 percent of the total population).
“Most Georgian users, about 55 percent, access the Internet from home, while about 21 percent use a friend’s computer. Others use connections at the office (9 percent), on mobile phones (6 percent), or in cybercafes (6 percent).”
In recent years, the regions have joined the Internet frenzy; however, Tbilisi and other big cities remain the leaders, partly because many smaller towns, as well as villages lack the adequate infrastructure. On average, each user spends between $7-10 and $25 every month on the Internet, sums which……………..