Saturday, 20 March 2010
This week, Russian and Georgian rugby teams faced one another in a peaceful confrontation in Turkey in which Georgia won. Last week however, the situation was different. For Georgians watching TV on Saturday night, the two countries were knee-deep in warfare - a mock war it turned out.
Last week, pro-government Imedi TV in Georgia sparked panic when it broadcast a mock half-hour report about a Russian invasion of the country less than two years after the Russian assault on the small former Soviet republic in the Caucasus.
The 2008 war was triggered after Georgian troops attacked pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.
On Saturday night, the pro-government Imedi TV in Georgia broadcast what it called a "simulation" of what a fresh invasion would look like. And the broadcast ended with a note that the events in it were not real. However, the show did not run any on-screen notes during the half-hour broadcast to alert viewers that what they were watching was not real. Consequently many were alarmed.
Fear and panic was highest amongst residents of recently-constructed colonies built to house Georgian refugees who fled the 2008 fighting. "I was afraid. It wasn't right of them to do it," said Tamuna Okhadze, a refugee and resident of Akhali Tserovani who held her one-and-a-half-year-old son Lasha, who was born after the war.
The broadcast was condemned by a wide array of politicians, journalists and activists as well as by Patriarch Ilia II, leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church. President Mikhael Saakashvili and other officials were quick to express concern and apologise for the panic the broadcast caused. His spokeswoman expressed understanding for journalists' need to practice and broadcast mock crises, but expressed Saakashvili's belief that such practices mustn't impact the population.