Author: Aidan Yusif
All governing structures of the state acknowledge that propaganda and disinformation are significant challenges. However, many still do nothing about it. One of the clearest examples of government inaction is the story below.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Georgia first assessed anti-Western propaganda as a significant threat in 2018. In early 2019, the research group was formed to investigate disinformation and propaganda.
The group consisted of seven parliamentarians. Four of them were members of the Georgian Dream and three were members of opposition parties.
The Thematic Research Group should have examined the situation in the country from the perspective of disinformation and propaganda. Then recommendations should be given to the executive to improve the situation.
29 research and non-governmental organizations expressed their desire to participate in the work of the Thematic Research Group. 18 of these organizations completed a special questionnaire on disinformation and propaganda and 13 meetings were held. As per the initial judgment, the group had to prepare a report in three months.
The Georgian Reform Association was one of the organizations involved in the research group. Mariam Tsitsikashvili, a representative of the organization, told us that non-governmental organizations were more involved in this process at the beginning than at the end.
“At first we were openly allowed to express our positions, then, in fact, the thematic research group was locked to civil society and it was working by itself, but we almost had no information about what it was working on,” Mariam Tsitsikashvili told us.
The group failed to keep its regimen and published its report in one year instead of three months. Tsitsikashvili says that some things were being changed in the course of this one year and they wished to provide the Group with updated recommendations. But they no longer had such chance.
Levan Avalishvili, one of the founders of the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information, also mentioned the fact that the civil society representatives were involved only in the initial part of the activities of the thematic research group and did not participate in the preparation of the report.
“They announced to accept the ideas. We all sent the ideas. Then there were the meetings. There we discussed the opinions we provided. There was a general Q&A session. They simply listened to us. Then I do not know how they worked on this report. If I’m not mistaken, I think they hired two experts who prepared it.”
The group held its first meeting on February 25, 2019. In one year, their report was published.
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) is one of the 18 organizations that shared their views with the research group on the situation in the country in terms of disinformation and propaganda.
“We presented our opinions, though in the final conclusion it was reflected in a slightly different way. In fact, there are more problems in terms of disinformation and propaganda than mentioned in the final report,” explained Mariam Gogosashvili, then GYLA representative.
The report says that the activities of civil society organizations are more or less compatible in terms of anti-Western propaganda and disinformation. And efforts by government agencies to deal with propaganda are largely reactive and rarely involve preliminary, preventive steps.
The research did not include government agencies such as the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Georgia and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the role of which is very high in dealing with hostile information campaigns.
As for the Security Service, the report states: “Despite SSS participation in the polls, no written or audio testimony of this agency was provided during the investigation. Therefore, the position of SSS is not included in this document. “
Members of the Thematic Investigation Group on Disinformation and Propaganda met with the Deputy Head of the State Security Service, Grigol Liluashvili, in May 2019.
At that time, Nino Goguadze, the main speaker of the thematic investigation group, said that SSS is one of the most important agencies in the investigation process, which has the most complete information on the work of the disinformation and propaganda system in Georgia.
It is clear from the report that SSS was interviewed, but the relevant records were not included in the report. Mariam Tsitsikashvili calls the involvement of SSS in this process completely ridiculous: “The case of the Security Service is the be highlighted, as they came, talked, but somehow their contribution is not seen in this report. “And this happens at a time when the security service is playing a leading role in dealing with disinformation and propaganda.”
According to the report, the working group gave 13 recommendations to the Parliament of Georgia, the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Security Council, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Increase the role of the Parliament;
Regulations of the social network – Facebook;
Transparency of funding sources;
Activation of the central coordinating unit/mechanism;
Protection of the 2020 parliamentary elections;
The concept of national security;
Creating national narratives;
Selection of messages, channels, and audiences;
Deepening cooperation with the private sector;
A comprehensive approach to education;
Involvement of the Georgian Church and Army in strengthening Euro-Atlantic integration;
Proper integration of technologies;
This report was prepared with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).
Vakhushti Menabde, director of GYLA’s Democratic Institutions Support Program says that the main problem for the survey groups is that reports are written by experts instead of MPs. These experts are hired by donors. And same here, the report was written by invited experts and not by the MPs themselves, who were members of the group.
“To sum up, we get the impression that this is just a research activity that does not go beyond its writer and the reader. This cannot be documented as a policy change. Because donors do more harm than good – they fund these studies. What more do the committees want? They will invent one or two topics, hire experts, they will sit down and write, allowing them to tick the checkbox. In fact, it does not change anything.”
Nor this specific report caused any changes. More than a year has passed and the recommendations have not been implemented. “This is a document that is simply shelved, in this case in the parliament,” Mariam Tsitsikashvili told us.
According to Levan Avalishvili, the report of the thematic research group is a good document. The issue is the extent to which the recommendations developed by the thematic group have been implemented. “That is another question. If I am not mistaken, it has not been done at all”.